The second marquee B1G matchup of the year was a thriller, as Penn State used final-minute heroics to pull out an improbable victory Thursday night, 35-31 at Purdue.
The play of the day that wasn’t came from a Nittany Lion who made plenty all night. Junior corner Joey Porter wheeled off his man, was in great position for an interception, but the ball slipped through his hands and into the air, landing in the hands of Purdue wideout TJ Sheffield. If Porter had hauled it in, he could have very well scored from about 20 yards out but at least would have set the offense up with phenomenal field position. Instead, Purdue turned it into three points and an early lead. Porter was otherwise outstanding, breaking up three passes and had a team-high eight tackles.
Sean Clifford completed just 54 percent of his passes, but that was mainly owing to several key drops throughout the night.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Johnson had a clear shot at Sean Clifford with about 2:30 left in the half. Not only did he purposely go low, but directly at Clifford’s left knee, which was being protected by a brace the entire game. It didn’t stop Clifford, however, from accounting for 14 points in the final two minutes of the half. Clifford would miss the opening drive but returned for good midway through the third. The health of Sean Clifford remains a question mark for Penn State. He’s clearly their guy and made big plays last year, a lot of them with his feet, but that came at a price, as the quarterback was banged up for much the year. TV announcers Thursday night claimed Clifford is healthier than ever, but the knee brace says otherwise. Keeping the talented, gutsy performer on the field is a priority; how might be a concern.
College coaches to a man don’t understand how to use timeouts with less than a minute to go. Purdue had all three timeouts available when it completed a pass a yard shy of the first down with 43 seconds left. Rather than immediately calling one of those three timeouts, Jeff Brohm and Purdue let eight seconds tick off the clock before finally realizing they should. They would go on to lose another 10 seconds in the fourth quarter in a similar circumstance. I’ve never played the game, but I do know math. If you have three timeouts left and only 43 seconds to use them, if you’re not using one now, when exactly do you plan on using them? If the average play takes about seven seconds, we’re talking about six plays max, best case scenario. That’s if you can stop the clock after each of those six plays. You can’t always work the sidelines and, call me crazy, the chains just get moved faster nowadays. Either that or B1G offenses take forever getting to the line of scrimmage. Those most likely at fault have to be the head coaches and offensive coordinators for having removed all autonomy from their signal callers. The offense on every play is looking to the sideline to be told what to do. Quarterbacks about 20-30 years ago were allowed more freedom and entrusted to get their team in the right play. They were more capable of judging down, distance, and circumstances. Today’s quarterbacks have their hands held the entire game. Yes, the coaching staff have their teams in what they deem as the best play each down, but it comes at a great cost. I hate hard-and-fast rules, but if you’re going to insist upon having no feel for the game, I’d suggest teams set the precedent, if you snap the ball inside a minute with all three timeouts and the play ends in bounds short of the marker, burn a timeout. I’ve just seen too many coaches take them into the half, and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to change.
You could argue Purdue outplayed Penn State for large swaths of the first half, but the fumble with less than a minute left deep in Nittany Lion territory was brutal. Add in horrendous Boiler tackling and you get another Penn State touchdown, effectively a 10-point swing and a 21-10 halftime lead for PSU.
Poor tackling from Purdue reared its head all night, lowlighted by fifth-year senior Reese Taylor’s failed attempt to tackle KeAndre Lambert-Smith with his helmet, who shrugged it off and rambled 29 yards for the score, giving Penn State a 28-24 lead with about 11 minutes to play.
Purdue seized momentum when safety Chris Jefferson returned Clifford’s worst pass of the night 72 yards for the go-ahead score with about 8:30 to go and a 31-28 Purdue lead.
But Clifford and the Lions answered with a nearly flawless 80-yard game-winning drive, Clifford’s third of his career. Penn State extends its win streak over Purdue to 10.
Iowa transfer Charlie Jones was sensational, setting the record for most receptions (12) by a receiver making his Purdue debut. Seven of his 158 yards receiving came on a beautiful hookup with Aidan O’Connell in the back of the end zone that momentarily gave Purdue a 24-21 lead.
A look ahead
Penn State hosts Ohio University Saturday, September 10 (noon, ABC) ahead of their road showdown with Auburn September 17 (3:30 p.m., CBS). The next two weeks are at home against Central Michigan (0-1) and Northwestern (1-0), before traveling to the Big House to take on no. 8 Michigan.
Purdue looks to rebound against Indiana State September 10 (4 p.m., BTN) before taking on Syracuse in the Carrier Dome (Noon, ESPN2). The Boilers host Florida Atlantic the following week (7:30 p.m., BTN) before resuming B1G play on the road against the Golden Gophers.