I’m looking back at a weekend that featured one of the most exciting NFL games of the season, only of the most thrilling World Series games ever, and the first Big Ten win for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights since 2017, yet I’m still hung up on a single moment that happened outside all of those incredible .
The Penix was short.
In case you had something better to do than watching college football at around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night (as if), that’s Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. fully extending himself while reaching for the pylon on an overtime two-point conversion attempt. My Penn State Nittany Lions had already scored a touchdown in the extra period, so after Indiana found the end zone, head coach Tom Allen’s decision to go for two became a do-or-die play to decide the game. Penix scrambled, stretched, and was ruled to have hit the pylon before landing out of bounds. The call stood upon replay review, giving IU a 36-35 upset victory and their first win over a top-10 team since 1987.
It looks to me like the ball hits the white paint before Penix slides it into the pylon, but I can’t be too mad at the officials, ever if there were some truly perplexing penalty calls during the game. Replay is meant to overturn obvious and egregious mistakes, not to make calls on game-deciding plays in which there’s no definitive screenshot. Penix LOOKS like he was short, and I believe he was short, but I can’t say there is conclusive evidence.
Besides, Penn State had a chance to wrap this game up in regulation time, only for James Franklin to be badly outsmarted by Allen and for the defense to improbably collapse at the worst possible time. Even before PSU took a 21-20 lead on Sean Clifford’s brilliant 60-yard pass to Jahan Dotson with 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lions had already missed two field goals and turned the ball over three times. They should have been ahead by way more than one point.
But since the margin was only one point, Indiana was able to grab an extra possession after it turned the ball over on downs with 1:47 remaining. PSU took over on the IU 14-yard line and the Hoosiers had just one time out remaining. If the Lions just sat on the ball, they would be able to run at least 80 of the 107 seconds off the clock — but certainly not all of it — due to the 40-second play clock. That’s why Franklin correctly opted to have Clifford hand the ball off to Devyn Ford instead of just taking a knee.
The Indiana defense then allowed Ford to waltz into the end zone, stopping the clock at 1:42 and giving IU the ball back in a one-possession game. Thus begun my frustrations with Franklin, who not only failed to explain the clock situation clearly enough to his players, but then decided to kick the extra point instead of trying to go ahead by nine with a two-point try and nip everything in the bud. I detailed the sequence over at Off Tackle Empire on Sunday morning.
Penix was short. Penix was short. I’ll go to my grave knowing Penix was short. James Franklin was just a raging tire fire in game management, though. First he let Devyn Ford walk into the end zone instead of laying down. Then, he kicked the extra point instead of going for the nine-point lead. He wasted a time out at the end of the ensuing drive, which PSU could have used to set up a closer field goal at the end of regulation. Speaking of that field goal, Franklin opted to kick it with eight seconds left instead of trying for something quick to the sideline to give kicker Jordan Stout a few more yards. Even though Stout missed, his kick still looked better than either of Jake Pinegar’s attempts, so why is Pinegar kicking field goals at all?
As wild as the game ended up being, the biggest shock was Michael Penix Jr. coming alive on that final regulation drive after being shut down by the PSU defense for most of the game. Like Sean Clifford, whose two interceptions helped put the Lions in a hole early on, Penix came up big when it mattered. About an inch short, but still big.
It’s easy to forget that after Indiana scored to tie the game, Penn State got the ball back around midfield due to an IU special teams snafu and almost won on a very long Jordan Stout field goal attempt. In Franklin’s defense, it seemed like the game would never get to that point because of the way Penn State’s defense dominated Penix and the Indiana offense during the second half.
The Hoosiers managed just three first downs on six second half possessions, and zero in their most recent three possessions, before Ford’s fateful touchdown “run”. It was then that Penix turned into Superman and led the Hoosiers on a 75-yard touchdown drive that included a phantom facemask penalty that overturned a sack and a couple of passes that he seemed to whip right through the arms of Penn State defensive backs. Everything Penix did on that drive worked, including his three-yard run through the PSU defense to tie the game on the two-point try.
Maybe it will help calm me down if I just look at the big picture. Indiana was eventually going to win one of these games after playing ranked teams close and coming up short for so long. I already knew Penn State wasn’t a top-10 football team or a national title contender, so this loss shouldn’t hurt THAT much. We’ll see how the Lions play against Ohio State this weekend, though. If they get blown out, it will be easier to emotionally move past this Indiana loss as another loss in a year that wasn’t THE year.
If the Ohio State game is close or if Penn State somehow pulls the upset (and it will have to be a much bigger upset than the one the Hoosiers just pulled off), then the IU loss will have a better chance of having lasting consequences that I’ll be thinking about forever.
Maybe football coaches all over the globe should be thinking about this game, though. On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons were leading the Detroit Lions by two points late in the game when Todd Gurley made the same mistake that Ford did.
The touchdown gave the Lions an extra possession that they used to score the winning touchdown. It was somewhat relieving to see such a similar scenario play out in an NFL game, but it’s also troubling to see your college football team make the same mistake as a pro team that is becoming notorious for losing games in improbable fashion. At least we know that this week of football will be more fun than last week. It has to be, right?