November 20, 2010

Penn State holds off Indiana, 41-24

Penn State took advantage of a hot start and even hotter finish to compensate for a rather cool middle, as the Nittany Lions escaped FedEx Field with a 41-24 win over the "home team" Indiana Hoosiers Saturday in the Washington Redskins' stadium in Landover, MD.

The Nittany Lions were in control, up 14-0 in the first 15:04.

Then they lost control, as Indiana tied it up 24-all in the third quarter.

But Penn State regained control just in time to win the game, courtesy of one huge scoop-and-score on a punt block that set it all in motion.

You could hand out a player of the game honor to quarterback Matt McGloin (22-31, 315 yds, 2 TD) or flanker Derek Moye (6 rec. 90 yds, TD; 2 car. 39 yds). But the real game-changers in this one were the unsung heroes on special teams, namely safety Andrew Dailey and linebacker James Van Fleet.

With the game still locked up at 24-24, Penn State would force a rare Indiana punt. But a slightly angled snap shifted punter Chris Hagerup right into Dailey, who came screeching off the edge for the block. Van Fleet was right there to scoop up the loose ball, and scooted 21 yards to paydirt, and a 31-24 Penn State lead.

It would end up being all Penn State (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) needed to escape the DC Metro area with a much-needed victory.

For a while, though, all was not well for Penn State. Indiana's quarterback rotation of incumbent Ben Chappell and change-of-pace guy Edward Wright-Baker had success against a Penn State defense that was playing without several key defensive linemen, as Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still missed the team breakfast, and Sean Stanley was being punished for a run-in with the law earlier in the week.

Chappell made some big throws, finishing the day with 235 yards and two touchdown passes, while Wright-Baker helped keep the Lions defense off-balance. But two interceptions by Chappell--one on a meaningless hail-mary before halftime, the other late in the third quarter--marred his otherwise good performance.

Penn State's defense played well for most of the game, but had trouble on several key passing plays by Indiana (4-7, 0-7 Big Ten). Tackling remained a minor, but noticeable, problem for the Nittany Lions, while coverage seemed to be way too soft for the Hoosiers' quick passing attack on the corners. Pete Massaro (2 tkl, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) had the best day of all Penn State defensive linemen, consistently pressuring Chappell in the pocket. In for the injured Michael Mauti at the "Fritz" weakside linebacker spot, Nate Stupar led the team in tackles with 10, and nearly made a one-handed interception over the middle.

For the offense, as mentioned earlier, it was a hot-cold-hot day in Landover, MD. Penn State struck early for a 14-0 lead on 87- and 99-yard drives, but Indiana roared back on a 24-10 run. Penn State's McGloin was fantastic, on his way to a career passing day. And Moye was utilized in both the passing and rushing attacks, adding a bit of a wrinkle to the offensive gameplan.

All told, Penn State piled up 496 yards of total offense, its second-best yardage this season. Evan Royster (16 car. 48 yds, TD) shared carries with both Silas Redd (9 car. 50 yds, TD) and Stephfon Green (4 car. 13 yds), as the Nittany Lions' ground game (171 yds) kept Penn State balanced.

Substitutions played a huge roll for the Nittany Lions, not just along the defensive line. Starting center Doug Klopacz went down with an injury, forcing Stefen Wisniewski to shift into that spot. Replacing Wiz was backup John Urschel. At right tackle, Mark Farrell got the start, due to both Chima Okoli and DeOn'Tae Pannell missing the pre-game team meal. Both Farrell and Urschel played very well in place of the regular starters.

Where Penn State goes from here is up to one game, next week's regular season finale against Michigan State (10-1). The Spartans are looking to clinch a share of the Big Ten title, while Penn State could turn a mediocre season into a good one, with the chance for an 8-4 regular season record and a January 1 bowl game.

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