Touchdown of Takeaways: Lions’ Comeback Falls Just Short in Primetime Clash

Opinion/Story posted October 27, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Penn State (4-3, 1-3 B1G) fell behind 17-0 in the first half only to score 17 unanswered to force overtime against No. 13 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0 B1G) in front of a sold-out Beaver Stadium Saturday night. But a Joey Bosa sack of Christian Hackenberg on 4th and 5 in the second OT gave the Buckeyes a 31-24 win.

Coming in as two touchdown underdogs, the Nittany Lions were that close to pulling the stunning upset. It was a wild night filled with controversial calls and gutty defensive play from the Penn State defense. Let’s take a look back at what was one of the most electrifying atmospheres in Beaver Stadium history.

1) If I wasn’t the only the one in this town that thought Penn State had a realistic shot to knock off the Buckeyes, I certainly was one of a select, naïve few. I predicted 17-14 and had it not been for a few outrageous officiating calls (we’ll have more on that in a bit), that score would have been right on the money.

I’ve been to enough night games at Beaver Stadium to know that you don’t just walk into a “Whiteout” with a freshman quarterback and expect to move the ball up and down the field. What you saw Saturday night was a product of a group of ticked off, under-manned guys playing their hearts out in front of 107,000+ fans so longingly desperate for a signature win.

If you thought this team was going to fold after falling behind 17-0, you haven’t been paying enough attention over the past four years.

2) Hats off to Mike Hull, Anthony Zettel and the rest of the Nittany Lion defense. Zettel’s pick-six to open the second half inspired the team and crowd, and the defense as a whole held the Buckeyes scoreless after the half.

Hull finished with a game-high 19 tackles and was all over the field all night. He may lack the size to play middle linebacker at the next level, but there isn’t another ‘backer in the country that means more to their team than Mike Hull. How the Big Ten’s leading tackler has been left off of the Butkus Award watch list is baffling.

3) With four consecutive weeks now of winnable football games, James Franklin may have found something with redshirt sophomore Wendy Laurent at center.

When Donovan Smith had to leave the game, Andrew Nelson moved over to the left tackle spot, Angelo Mangiro moved to guard and Laurent came in to play center. Penn State moved the ball as well as they had in weeks with that offensive line combination, and with Smith’s apparent lack of ability to stay healthy, it may be the starting combination next weekend against Maryland.

Mangiro has always been more comfortable at guard rather than center, and the emergence of Laurent could be vital for Penn State moving forward.

4) How about the play of freshmen DaeSean Hamilton and Marcus Allen? Hamilton earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second time this season after hauling in 14 receptions for 126 yards. And Allen recorded 11 tackles, filling in for the injured Ryan Keiser at the safety position.

Between those two and fellow freshmen receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, who had an incredible, leaping touchdown reception, it’s evident that Franklin is growing more comfortable with the younger guys in big situations. In fact, on the final drive of regulation it was the three freshmen receivers that saw the bulk of the looks in the final three minutes.

5) Lastly from a football perspective, can Sam Ficken punt? Anthony Fera took care of the punting and place kicking duties before transferring to Texas, and I refuse to believe that Ficken couldn’t average more than 34.5 yards per punt; the average of Chris Gulla and Dan Pasquariello’s eight punts.

Penn State continues to lose the field position battle because of their inability to punt the ball and effectively turn the field over. When you have an offense that struggles to string together first downs, it’s that much more important to help out the defense by making the opposing team move the length of the field.

It’s an issue that needs to be corrected, and I have to think Franklin needs to at least look at the possibility of Ficken taking over the punting responsibilities.

6) Now to the officiating, and I’m going to do my best to portray this in an eloquent way. Bad calls happen in sports; refs are humans and make mistakes. But, the number of inexplicably blown calls that have gone against Penn State is becoming painful to witness.

How on earth can a replay official not have access to a highlight that 107,000 people in the stadium and the millions of people watching on national television can all see? I’m sorry but, “We had technical malfunctions,” doesn’t fly. And failing to recognize a delay of game for three seconds is purely a case of incompetence.

I’m tired of it. Just two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions had a potential game-winning drive stripped away with a phantom offsides penalty on the recovered onside kick. And remember two years back when Matt Lehman blatantly broke the plane for a fourth quarter, go-ahead touchdown against Nebraska, only to have the replay official rule that he had fumbled prior.

I don’t know if the outcome would have been different, but I do know that Ohio State scored ten points that were directly affected by obvious missed calls. Thanks for the apology Big Ten, it sure does everyone a lot of good now.

7) On a final, brighter note, although Franklin would never admit it publicly, Saturday night was a moral victory for this team and this program. With dozens of some of the top high school recruits in the country on the sidelines, Saturday was a showcase for what a primetime matchup against Urban Meyer and Buckeyes is all about.

The talent gap between the two programs probably isn’t as close as that game would indicate, but it’s not as wide as the 63-14 drubbing last year in Columbus. The crowd brought it and those recruits in attendance got to witness what Kirk Herbstreit once referred to as The Greatest Show in College Football.

It was almost a night to remember in Happy Valley. But that team has nothing to be ashamed of, and I think I can speak for the seniors attending their final Whiteout when I say they gave us as much as we could have asked for.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Matt Lawrence is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email mdl030293@gmail.com.