Monday, November 22, 2010

Penn State-Indiana Football: Great Plays Absolutely Positively Make the Difference

Penn Staters, take note.  This is what football looks like when you're a program that is desperate for money to support competitiveness in Big Ten play.  Where a $3 million guarantee from an NFL field hundreds of miles away from your primary fan base will be enough of an incentive for you to schedule a "home" game closer to your opponents' fans than to your own fans.

You can be sure that it wasn't the Indiana fans that the Washington Redskins NFL franchise was after when the game was scheduled at FedEx Field outside of Washington D.C.  They were counting on a huge Penn State fan base to fill the stands on Saturday.  Unfortunately, it was a November 20 game and Penn State's opponent was Indiana.  Indiana has not been the most competitive team against Penn State, and this season has not been the most exciting for Penn State fans.  Ticket sales were slow, and the stadium was hardly full. 

Still, Penn Staters outnumbered Indiana Hoosiers by about 3-1.  We more or less "whited out" FedEx Field.  But it didn't really look that way, because the empty seats were mostly red, matching the colors worn by the few Indiana fans that made the trip.

One of my former students, Ryann Reynolds-McIlnay, posted on Facebook during the game that it looked like the Indiana band was about 1/6 of the Indiana crowd.  It looked that way to me as well.

Personally, I was excited about going to FedEx Field.  A new stadium is always exciting for us.  And we had not been to the Washington D.C. area for a game in a long time, not since we played our old rival Maryland regularly as independents.  College Park is only a few miles away from FedEx Field.

To go to an Indiana away game we usually fly to Indianapolis, rent a car, and drive to Bloomington for the game, staying in some nondescript hotel about halfway between Bloomington and Indianapolis.  It is not one of our favorite trips.

So it was nice to have a game that we could really drive to - in less than four hours - on all highway roads with little traffic until we approached the Beltway and drove on it for the last 20 miles or so to Landover, MD.

Six-lane roads.  Wow.  I now know that I have lived in the country too long.  I didn't realize such roads existed, and I'm not sure I've ever driven on one.

We even splurged on upgraded seats - in the Club seat area - rationalizing that we were saving money on airfare and a rental car.  So we were seated between the 30-40 yard line on the sunny side of the field.

The sun was so warm for this twelve noon game that we took off our layering and wore shirt sleeves.  Amazing for a November 20 game even in Maryland!

Credit the Indiana Hoosiers for being the team that played Iowa and not the team that played Wisconsin.  Their offense gave Penn State's defense all they could handle for the first three quarters of the game.

This was a week where the Penn State team had to overcome itself as well as its opponent.

Two Penn State players, Silas Redd and Sean Stanley, were arrested for public urination, giving new meaning to the acronym P-S-U.

The morning of the game, four different defensive Penn State players - starters Ollie Ogbu, Devon Still, and ChimA Okoli and backup DeOn'tae Pannell - were late for the team bus and thus sat out the first half.

It also didn't help that Penn State's center, Doug Klopacz, was injured early in the game.

But overcome adversity the Penn State team did, even if it took three quarters to do it.  They certainly created a lot of anxiety for those of us sitting in the stands.  

After all, Penn State has never lost to Indiana, and we certainly didn't expect to on Saturday.  But when Indiana kept coming back - when our defense couldn't hold them time and again - and it was tied at the end of the third quarter, we felt we were in serious trouble.

Credit special teams players Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet and the defensive player Drew Astorino for coming up with some big plays at the end of the third quarter that broke the 24-24 tie and led to a 41-24 win.

Credit our offense for controlling time of possession and for achieving 496 yards of offense.  Penn State had the ball 36:59 minutes: Indiana had the ball only 23:01 minutes.

Credit the defense with tightening up in the 4th quarter so we could actually celebrate our usual win against Indiana.

Or, more accurately, breathe a huge sigh of relief!

After all, this was Indiana.   It would have been devastating to lose, and there have been very few games against them where it was even close.

Despite what appears to be a lopsided score, it wasn't.  Kudos to Indiana for playing us tough.

This week, Penn State is set up to be a spoiler of Michigan State's Rose Bowl hopes next Saturday at Beaver Stadium.  Much as I believe it would be fun to see them in the Rose Bowl over Ohio State or Wisconsin, I don't want to see this at the expense of a Penn State loss.

The Penn State players might also be motivated by a New Year's Day bowl.  We have heard that the Gator Bowl or Outback Bowl are possibilities if we win.  Frankly I would prefer the bowl in Arizona because we have family there, but again I don't want to go there at the expense of a Penn State loss.

So let's hope for the best!  Go Lions!  Beat the Spartans!


  1. The 2004 Indiana game was close. The Lions needed a goal line stand to preserve the win. The team then rattled off 12 wins over the next 13 games with Robinson at the helm. Some people point to that goal line stand as the turning point when PSU emerged from the "dark ages" of 2000-2004!

  2. Good point. Thanks for the correction. I was there for that one too! You would have thought we had won a bowl game.