Penn St. rallies past Hoosiers
Whether it was the lingering effects of the loss by Ohio State, the hoopla over Senior Day, or the surprising play of Indiana, Penn State found itself in trouble during the first half Saturday.
The Hoosiers, at the bottom of the Big Ten standings at 1-6 (4-7 overall) jumped out to a 10-0 lead that could have been much worse, given that the Nittany Lions committed four turnovers in what was their worst half of football of the season.
The Lions clawed their way to a 10-10 tie at halftime, although Indiana coach Bill Lynch, who is the Big Ten poster child for tough luck this season, vehemently protested the lack of a holding call on Evan Royster's 13 yard TD pass from Daryll Clark right before half.
It took another standout defensive play by linebacker Navorro Bowman, who intercepted a Ben Chappell pass and returned it 73 yards for a TD in the third quarter to wake up the Lions enough to shake off the pesky Hoosiers for a 31-20 victory in their home finale at Beaver Stadium.
The win improved Penn State to 9-2 (5-2 Big Ten) and moved the Lions up to 14th in the Bowl Championship Series standings, keeping them in the running for a BCS bowl bid. PSU also jumped up to 12th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 13th in the Associated Press sportswriters poll.
The Lions now hit the road for their conference curtain closer at Michigan State (6-5), in the annual battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
Bowman, who also had 12 tackles, earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his game-changing interception.
It was the second long TD return to paydirt this season for the junior, who reportedly suggested he would consider skipping his senior season in favor of the NFL Draft. Bowman also went the distance on a 91 yard fumble recovery.
"Bowman's interception was obviously a big play," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "He's a good football player and he showed that he can run. It was a lift, obviously."
With Indiana running out of the No-Huddle offense, the Lions couldn't get untracked early. PSU's special teams headaches continued; while the kick coverage improved over last week's disasterous efforts against the Buckeyes, this week returnees had problems catching the ball.
"It gets contagious," said Paterno. "A couple of bad plays and everything starts pressing a little bit. Clark had a couple of bad throws early and then he starts aiming the ball and got himself back in the groove.
"It's an emotional game it's a game of poise. Sometimes you slip a little bit and pay the big consequences for it, we didn't end up playing well in the first half."
PSU got a couple of fourth quarter TDs, one on a two-yard run by Royster, who carried 17 times for 95 yards rushing, and a one-yard plunge by Clark.
"We had to eliminate all the stupid mistakes that I did at the beginning of the game," said Clark, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 194 yards but was picked off twice. "There were a lot of things that I was able to do the entire football game, I just had a lot of mistakes. It messed us up a little bit. We were able to run, we were able to throw on whatever play was called. We just needed to execute it. We needed to buckle down and stay focused so we could finish this game the right way."
The Lions also sustained some injuries during the game. A knee injury to Brandon Beachum cut into the depth at running back, and wideout Chaz Powell hurt his shoulder on the second play of the game. Cornerback A.J. Wallace went down with what was reportedly a stinger, but that was a blow to the secondary against the Hoosiers' Chappell, who threw 51 passes for 298 yards.
True freshman wideout Curtis Drake came on a had a big 26 yard run and also caught two passes for 34 yards.
The Lions have never lost to Indiana on the gridiron, improving to 13-0, and a loss to the Hoosiers would have been only their second in the last 20 Senior Days. A total of 18 PSU seniors made their final appearance at Beaver Stadium.