Penn State's football flop in Indiana: Ill-advised touchdown helps lead to defeat
Penn State's Devyn Ford got the ball with a narrow lead and only 1:42 to play.
The Nittany Lions' third-string tailback took the handoff and began running toward the end zone, free and clear, no one even trying to disrupt him.
Quickly enough, it was clear: This was one of the few times when scoring a touchdown was what you didn't want to do.
But it was too late. Ford glanced to the sideline and slowed as he approached the Indiana goal line but tip-toed in for what would be an eight-point lead — but allowing the Indiana Hoosiers precious time to try and tie it.
They did just that and went on to win, 36-35, in overtime on Saturday's opening week in the Big Ten.
It was just one of many ill-fated mistakes that came back to haunt the No. 8 Lions in their first game in 10 months.
If Ford would have just fallen on the ground before reaching the end zone, the Lions could have run out the clock. Indiana had just one timeout remaining.
Instead, the Hoosiers' offense finally clicked on a last-minute drive. They sent the game into overtime with a two-point conversion and won it a few minutes later with another.
Overall, the Lions committed three turnovers and 10 penalties. They missed three field goals.
But, after it was over, everyone wanted to ask about Ford and Penn State's coaching leadership in that moment.
Head coach James Franklin, as expected, defended his sophomore running back, saying that if his team would have taken care of their business elsewhere, that would not have mattered.
But he also made it sound like his players were instructed not to score in that situation.
“We went through that situation this week, we went through that situation on the sideline and, obviously, we could have handled it better, and I could have handled it better, but I don’t want to make it about that one play," Franklin said.
“What we wanted to do is get as much as you can and get down," he said, continuing. "We’ve covered it, we went through it during the game but, again, there were a bunch of situations that came up."
There were so many close, excruciating Penn State game-turning plays during this defeat. A Jake Pinegar field goal banged off an upright to end the first half. A Jordan Stout field goal from 58 yards to win it in regulation fell about a yard short.
And was Indiana quarterback Michael Penix's desperate dive for the end zone to win it truly in-bounds?
Ford's decision to score instead of eating clock was just another strange twist to this wild, back-and-forth affair.
“I talked to Devyn after. I told him to stay off social media, head down and just flush (the loss) down, and I’ll have your back regardless," said tight end Pat Freiermuth. "That's my brother, and I’ll be there for him.
"I've been in his shoes in high school once," Freiermuth said. "It's very hard to see that end zone open up like that and just think to yourself, 'Get down.'"
But, "It just doesn't come down to one play. That's where it comes back to attention to details. We turned the ball over three times in the first half."
In the end, it added up to Penn State's first season-opening loss in five years and only its second loss ever to the Hoosiers.