Boosted by defense, Penn State outlasts Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As early sun gave way to a chilly, windy and gray afternoon characteristic of November in the Midwest, Penn State’s defense secured the Nittany Lions’ first victory since it was summer.
“It felt like forever,” linebacker Nyeem Wartman said. “It feels good to know what it finally feels like to win a game again.”
Forty-nine days since PSU’s prior victory, the Nittany Lions found that winning feeling again.
The defense pitched a shutout, and its offense did just enough to overcome a major gaffe as Penn State snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Indiana, 13-7, on Saturday.
“We got it done,” quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. “We found a way.
“We found a way to claw one out today, and that’s good for us going down with this stretch here.”
Bill Belton had a 92-yard touchdown run — the longest in school history. But consistent with Penn State’s play all season, the defense was the catalyst for the win.
The Hoosiers had just 221 yards, and their only points came on a 47-yard interception return that gave Indiana (3-6, 0-5 Big Ten) an early lead. Penn State’s nationally ranked defense did not allow the Hoosiers to drive inside the 33-yard line all game.
The Lions (5-4, 2-4) limited Tevin Coleman, who entered as the national leader in rushing yards per game, to a season-low 71 yards on 20 carries.
“They were amazing,” Coleman said of PSU’s defenders. “They were really good. They’re the No. 1 rush defense in the nation. … I just couldn’t go anywhere.”
And with Indiana down to its third-string quarterback in true freshman Zander Diamont, the one-dimensional Hoosiers had little hope offensively. Diamont completed 13 of 27 passes for 68 yards, almost tripling his passing yardage accumulated in starting the previous two games.
“Penn State is a good defense — they can stop the run without overloading,” Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson said. “So as we threw the ball, they still had the leverage on receivers.”
Despite the win, Hackenberg’s sophomore slump continued. In addition to the pick-six, he also threw a tipped interception with 5:28 to play that gave Indiana field position near midfield.
Put in another precarious position by the offense or special teams, the defense came through. Anthony Zettel sacked Diamont to punctuate IU’s sixth three-and-out.
Penn State responded with its seventh pointless possession of three or fewer plays. But on the ensuing drive, the Lions defense took matters into its own hands. Wartman picked off Diamont and returned it to the IU 24.
Sam Ficken’s second field goal of the game gave Penn State a six-point lead.
Diamont and the Hoosiers took over at their 19 with 49 seconds left. They got one first down but had four consecutive incompletions to end the game.
Indiana’s 15 possessions went as such: Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, interception, downs.
“Their job,” PSU coach James Franklin said of his defense, “is to get three-and-outs.”
They largely did. The game’s lone touchdowns were scored on consecutive snaps late in the second quarter.
With four minutes left in the first half, Indiana safety Mark Murphy read one of the many wide receiver screens PSU has been running as a method of mitigating the lack of a running game and pass protection. Despite being lined up about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, Murphy sprinted when he recognized a quick pass to Saeed Blacknall, tipped the ball to himself and ran into the end zone.
After a poor return set up the Lions at their 8, Belton took a draw and took advantage of a seal block by tight end Jesse James to burst through a hole up the middle.
Belton outran the pursuit of Michael Hunter and Flo Hardin to tie the longest scoring play from scrimmage in Penn State history (Bob Higgins had a 92-yard catch against Pitt in 1919).
“All I was thinking about at that time was not to get caught from behind,” Belton said. “It would have been a big deal in the running back room.”
The play accounted for 28 percent of Penn State’s 330 yards of offense.
Indiana appeared to have a first down inside the Penn State 25 with 10:54 to play, but Simmie Cobbs Jr. dropped a pass on third-and-5 from the PSU 33 — its deepest advance of the game.
Griffin Oakes then was wide right with a 51-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied it.
Belton had Penn State’s first 100-yard game this season with 137 yards on 16 carries. Hackenberg finished 12 of 29 for 168 yards and two interceptions.
Some ugly stats. But the Lions didn’t call it an ugly win.
“That was the prettiest win I’ve ever seen in my 20 years,” Franklin said.
It was the only win he’d seen in seven weeks.