No. 19 Penn St. sloppy but still tops Indiana
Most teams don’t win games after four turnovers in one half, let alone one game.
When those turnovers come against Indiana though, anything is possible.
Linebacker Navorro Bowman returned an interception 73 yards for a touchdown, tailback Evan Royster scored twice and No. 19 Penn State overcame its four first-half miscues — including two fumbles on special teams — to defeat Indiana, 31-20, on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten), who still have an outside chance for a Bowl Championship Series berth, averted a disastrous upset on Senior Day thanks in large part to two top juniors — Bowman and Royster.
“It was an emotional game, a game of poise,” said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who notched his 392nd career win. “We just didn’t play very well in the first half.”
Luckily for Penn State, the defense bounced back after getting caught off-guard against Indiana’s no-huddle offense to fall behind 10-0 in the first quarter.
It was a familiar theme for the Hoosiers (4-7, 1-6) — hanging tough on the road before slipping up late. They have led at Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa this season before finding ways to lose down the stretch.
It happened again Saturday in Happy Valley.
“Playing hard and competing the way we are, that needs to be the norm,” Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. “That’s the expectation, and we’ve got to make the plays within it.”
Instead, it was Bowman who made the momentum-swinging play.
After Collin Wagner’s field goal bounced off the right upright in the third quarter, Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell engineered a nice drive into Penn State territory — until his screen pass was tipped in the air by running back Trea Burgess.
Bowman snatched the ball at his own 27, then rumbled down the field with an escort of blockers for a touchdown to give Penn State its first lead, 17-10 with 6:54 left in the third quarter.
The junior said he’ll consider skipping his final year of eligibility to enter next spring’s NFL draft. He’s already got quite an impressive highlight reel, including a 91-yard fumble return for a TD earlier this season.
Compared with that return, his 73-yarder was easy — though he was still winded Saturday.
“You can only get better,” said a grinning Bowman, who finished with 12 tackles. “God is working with me, cut down the yards for me.”
Later, tailback Royster and his backup, Stephfon Green, softened up Indiana’s Big Ten-worst defense on the ground before Royster had a two-yard TD run for a two-touchdown lead with 14:57 left.
Royster finished with 95 yards on 17 carries and 39 yards receiving on four catches.
Indiana responded with a nice drive to the Penn State 21, but the Nittany Lions’ defense came up big on third down when safety Nick Sukay leveled receiver Mitchell Evans at the goal line, forcing the Hoosiers to settle for a field goal.
Royster thanked the defense for playing well and allowing the offense to find its traction.
“They shouldn’t have to do that, but the fact that we have a defense that can do that is a blessing,” Royster said. “We need to get better as an offense in these last two games if we want to win.”
Senior quarterback Daryll Clark finished 17 for 28 for 194 yards and a 13-yard TD pass to Royster just before the end of the first half to inject confidence into the offense. He also ran for 29 yards and a score on seven carries.
But Clark also threw two picks – including one on a tipped ball – in his last home game didn’t look sharp before regaining some rhythm in the second half.
His defense had to adjust, too, after having trouble early with Indiana’s no-huddle attack. Ben Chappell’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Damarlo Belcher midway through the first quarter gave the Hoosiers a 10-0 lead.
“We weren’t worried, we were happy. We were thinking, ‘Oh, we can move the ball on these guys,”‘ Chappell said. “We had to continue to fight, which we did. And continue to make plays, which we didn’t do.”
Chappell finished 32 for 51 passing for 298 yards, plus one interception and two TDs, while Belcher had nine catches for 95 yards.
Penn State tried to help Indiana by fumbling away two punt returns in the first half. Defensive end Jerome Hayes also fumbled a short kickoff return to start the second half, though the ball was recovered by Penn State near midfield.
Still, the 100,000-plus fans packed into Beaver Stadium let out a collective groan as they witnessed more special teams mistakes, a season-long theme. The Nittany Lions shored up its porous punt coverage only to have setbacks in other areas.
Bowman, though, provided a game-changing play to send the Hoosiers home with another disappointing road loss.
“Indiana has been a really big first-half football team,” Paterno said. “They’ve been down a little bit, might need a few more people. All’s well that ends well.”