After back-to-back heartbreaking losses, the Nittany Lions needed a win to stabilize their shaky season. And they got it.
Penn State edged Indiana, 33-28 in a complicated victory Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. The Nittany Lions avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2015, but did so unconvincingly.
Trace McSorley completed 19 of 36 passes for 220 yards and added 107 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Miles Sanders was effective early when given the opportunity and finished with 72 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. And Indiana native Tommy Stevens — Penn State’s Swiss Army Knife — threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth.
But the Hoosiers were always hanging around. Indiana’s rushing attack gashed the Nittany Lions for 231 yards, spearheaded by Stevie Scott’s 138-yard, two-touchdown effort.
Player of the game
Trace McSorley: It wasn’t his prettiest game by any means — but after a Michigan State loss lacking the resolve to finish, McSorley did that in Bloomington.
The fifth-year quarterback polished off Johnathan Thomas’ 94-yard kickoff return with a decisive five-yard score late in the third quarter, a touchdown run that gave the Nittany Lions a 26-21 lead. In the fourth, McSorley ran around Indiana linebacker Thomas Allen for a four-yard score that put Penn State up 33-21.
Dealing with drops all day, McSorley pushed through, and the Nittany Lions were victorious because of it.
Stat that mattered
Third-down inefficiency: Penn State entered Saturday afternoon ranked 82nd in the country in third-down conversion rate after a combined 6 for 31 showing in losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. And the Nittany Lions did it again, struggling against the Hoosiers, who are the 80th in the country in third-down defense.
Penn State — which boasted the fifth-best conversion rate in college football a year ago — went 2 of 8 on third down in the first half against the Hoosiers. In the second half, Brandon Polk had a pair of third-down drops, one of which would have been a third-quarter touchdown. Instead, Penn State had to settle for a Jake Pinegar chip-shot field goal.
Whether it’s drops, McSorley throwing high or disconnect on the offensive line, the Nittany Lions have not gotten it done on third down. And it’s costing them.
Jonathan Sutherland: Yetur Gross-Matos, who lived in Indiana’s backfield and tallied a multi-sack game, was an intriguing option — but Sutherland change the game on special teams.
With 11:52 left in the fourth quarter, the redshirt freshman forced a fumble that was recovered by Nick Scott at Indiana’s 32-yard line. Five plays later, McSorley was in the end zone with his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon.
Sutherland was also forced to step up on defense after a third-quarter targeting call ejected starting safety Garrett Taylor.
Ranked road: Getting over consecutive losses was crucial in Bloomington — but the Nittany Lions’ next three games will determine whether they rise to 10-2 or fall to 8-4. Penn State returns home to face Iowa (6-1), which ought to be ranked after a convincing win against Maryland. The Hawkeyes entered Saturday allowing 282 yards per game, the fifth-best mark in the country. After that, the Nittany Lions host No. 23 Wisconsin and travel to No. 6 Michigan. It’s a trying stretch for Penn State — one that will define its season.