Ugly start buries Indiana in 45-14 loss at Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The frustration bubbled inside Tom Allen as his special teams unit imploded during a wretched first quarter.

After watching Penn State’s third touchdown of the period, the product of a fumbled punt return by J-Shun Harris, the Indiana coach fixed his gaze upward, as if the clouds above Beaver Stadium held the answers to why IU’s special teams play suddenly looked so inept.

The Hoosiers didn’t put so much as a finger on Penn State star Saquon Barkley during his 98-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, and Harris’ mistake on punt duty moments later felt like a throbbing gut punch after IU’s special teams platoon had played so well across the past two weeks.

Those first-quarter lapses, along with an offense that failed to consistently start and sustain drives, buried Indiana in a 45-14 loss to No. 4 Penn State before an announced crowd of 107,542 on Saturday.

Allen, a former special teams coordinator at his previous coaching stops, vowed to fix an inconsistent Indiana special teams unit when he was promoted to head coach at Indiana in December. For much of this month, the early returns were promising.

But Saturday’s collapse spoiled a strong defensive effort against Barkley, the nation’s flashiest running back, while forcing a stop-and-start IU offense to play from behind from the earliest moments.

“This was not an effort issue, this was not a want-to issue,” Allen said about the loss, Indiana’s 10th in as many trips to Penn State. “This was execution and special teams. I’m going to put it on special teams. The offense didn’t come to play in the second half. We have to get that right. But special teams; really, really disappointing.”

After limiting Barkley in last year’s game at Memorial Stadium, Indiana (2-2, 0-2) once again held the Penn State running back in check. This time, Barkley managed merely 2.8 yards per rush, picking up 56 yards on 20 carries against the IU defense.

But Indiana’s kickoff cover team was not up to the same challenge.

“Running down the field, we went with the deep right kick,” IU’s Chase Dutra said. “That pretty much sealed us all in and had a nice wall set up. We busted that one. It was disappointing we didn’t do our jobs. Simple as that.”

The Harris gaffe was equally concerning, especially considering that the two-time Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week was injured on the play and didn’t return.

Sandwiched in between the special teams blunders was a critical mistake by Indiana running back Morgan Ellison, who ruined an 18-yard run on IU’s first offensive possession by fumbling at the Indiana 43.

The error gave Penn State (5-0, 2-0) prime field position and the Nittany Lions took advantage by capping a six-play 39-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown dive from quarterback Trace McSorley.

Indiana’s deficit was 28-0 by the end of the first quarter, with McSorley hitting receiver DaeSean Hamilton for an eight-yard touchdown pass late in the period.

“It’s hard to dig yourself out of that and continue to fight,” Dutra said. “We had our chance and we couldn’t come up with it at the end.”

Indeed, as poorly as this game began for IU, its defense provided a glimmer of hope.

The Hoosiers broke through Penn State’s inconsistent offensive line to pressure McSorley and keep Barkley from taking off on any back-breaking runs.

By halftime, Indiana had out-gained Penn State 241-143 and it held the Lions’ vaunted rushing attack to merely 12 yards. Across the first 30 minutes, Penn State averaged a pedestrian 3.7 yards per play.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Allen said. “Thought the kids played really hard.”

Even so, the Hoosiers couldn’t close their deficit by anymore than 14 points. Starting quarterback Richard Lagow once again looked inconsistent, missing the mark on too many throws that should’ve gone for chunk gains.

Lagow’s best pass of the day was a 54-yard strike to tight end Ian Thomas, who ran to the Penn State 2-yard line. From there, reserve running back Ricky Brookins punched it in for his first career score.

After back-to-back 3-and-outs, Lagow was pulled in favor of backup Peyton Ramsey, who performed marginally better with the help of the zone read plays Indiana can’t run with Lagow.

Ramsey completed eight of his 17 passes for 78 yards, while picking up 53 yards on 12 carries.

On this day, Indiana’s muddled quarterback situation gained no further clarity.

“We’re gonna play the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win,” Allen said. “We’re gonna go back and watch the film and whoever that is, we’ll make that decision.”

Indiana was able to make it a two-possession game when Ramsey hit Cobbs for an 18-yard score late in the first half. Cobbs did most of the work on the play, dancing around a would-be tackler to jump into the end zone and cut Penn State’s lead to 28-14 with 44 seconds remaining in the half.

But Indiana failed to carry the momentum it found during the second quarter into the second half. On the Hoosiers’ third play of the third quarter, Ramsey was intercepted while looking for Taysir Mack along the near sideline.

Indiana wouldn’t score again.

The Hoosiers picked up only 33 passing yards during the final 30 minutes, while the Lions sealed the win with a pair of touchdown receptions by Hamilton late in the second half. The second of those came on a pass by Barkley, who hit the Penn State receiver from 16 yards out to cap the scoring.

“It’s extremely tough,” IU linebacker Tegray Scales said, “especially when you’re going up against a top team in the country. We didn’t execute. All three phases are huge, but giving that up on special teams (hurt).”


  1. Okay gentlemen…IU is 0-2 losses to Penn State #4 and Ohio State #2…nobody really expected IU to win those games correct, but they expected IU to be competitive in those games. Did the IU fan get what we where seeking?? We have two games left with ranked top ten (Michigan and Wisconsin) team. Does anyone expects IU to beat these teams?? Are can we just be competitive. Assuming that we lose those two games, that leaves IU five (Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue) opportunities to win 3 games to become Bowl eligible. The question now becomes will IU be to banged up (injuries) to win, a QB that can lead IU to victory or a good game plan to win a game. Everybody says the defense did a great job, maybe!! The defense sold out to stop the run, but the wide receivers killed IU secondary (the suppose strength of this IU defense). At present, maybe IU has the strength to beat Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue….but margin of victory against those teams are looking very slim. An unless IU recruits a QB in this class the future looks bleak regardless.

  2. It is hard to be good when one of your weak links is qb. It has an impact in program at so many levels.

  3. While neither Lagow or Ramsey played well, neither of them were the reason IU lost this game. Special teams lost this game, and it was over before half time. IU simply does not have the firepower to overcome those types of mistakes and beat anyone, let alone the #4 ranked team in the country playing in front of 107,000 of their fans. Yes, IU needs to recruit another quarterback in this coming class, but even if we get a graduate transfer who is a stud, a new quarterback is not going to solve the problems that caused IU to lose this game.

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