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Penn State’s Goal Line Stands are Becoming Habit-forming

by on October 24, 2019 7:30 PM

For Penn State’s defense last Saturday night, the eyes had it.

Especially when the Nittany Lions’ defense had their backs against the wall.

It was a repeat of the Pitt game, five weeks earlier. However, the Pitt Stand came at the north end of the field — opposite of where 22,000 white-clad Penn State students were screaming their lungs out on Saturday, exhorting the Nittany Lions to stop a driving Michigan.

But just like against Pitt, the game — and an undefeated season — were on the line.

The Latest Stand started at 10:54 p.m. on Saturday night, with just about 200 seconds remaining in the Whiteout. Michigan trailed 28-21, but was within seven yards and four downs from a TD and a PAT that would tie Penn State.

A score would give the Wolverines three consecutive touchdowns and provide them with a ton of momentum heading into overtime.

That’s where the eyes came in. And we don’t mean the 221,338 eyeballs inside Beaver Stadium or the millions more watching on ABC, either.

We’re talking about the Penn State huddle.

“We don’t need to say anything to each other,” Nittany Lion safety Garrett Taylor recalled. “We all needed to elevate our level of play at the goal line. We all knew what’s at stake.

“We look at each other in the eyes and can kind of tell.

 It’s like, ‘We need to go. We need to come through in this situation.’ I speak for everyone in the defense, when we lock eyes on one another, we see that confidence in our teammates. That makes it easy to go out there and play — and play fast and aggressive. No one is playing scared. Everyone wants to be out there in that situation. Everyone wants to make those plays.”

You know how “that situation” played out: 

On first-and-goal from the 7, Michigan’s Zach Charbonnet ran for one yard. The next play, quarterback Shea Patterson scrambled for two yards, before heading out of bounds. On third-and-goal from the 3, Patterson was hurried by PSU safety Jaquan Brisker and his pass to Donovan People-Jones fell incomplete.

That set up on fourth-and-goal from the 3, with 2:07 left in regulation. Patterson threw over the middle to Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell in the end zone. Bell dropped the pass and the game was essentially over.

For the Nittany Lions, it was nothing new.

BEEN THERE, STOPPED THAT

Four times in the past two seasons, Penn State’s fortunes have come down to a goal line stand — a final play where it needed to keep its opponent out for the end zone. Four times, Brent Pry’s defensive unit has come through.

Of course, there have been recent occasions when the Nittany Lions’ defense also failed in the final two minutes:

-- Ohio State scored on a 16-yard TD pass in the final 108 seconds in 2017, to win 39-38.

-- Ohio State scored on a 24-yard TD pass in the final 123 seconds in 2018, to win 27-26. 

-- Michigan State kicked a 34-yard field goal (line of scrimmage: 16) as time expired in 2017, to win 27-24.

-- Michigan State scored on a 25-yard TD with 19 seconds left in 2018, to win 21-17.

But, for now, we’re talking winning goal line stands. And the 2019 streak is now at two.

There’s Appalachian State and Iowa in 2018. In overtime against App State, Amani Oruwariye picked off a Zac Thomas pass in the end zone to preserve a 45-38 win. Later in the season against Iowa, Nick Scott picked off quarterback Nate Stanley’s pass on a third-and-goal from the 3, just a few feet and 198 seconds away from a Hawkeye victory. Penn State won, 30-24.

There’s Pitt and Michigan, twice in the past five games in 2019. Against the Panthers, the Nittany Lion D held the Panthers three straight times at the 1-yard line (a run and two incomplete passes) to force an ill-advised (by Pat Narduzzi) and ill-fated 19-yard field goal attempt (by Alex Kessman) to preserve a 17-10 victory.

In each occasion, Penn State’s defense needed a stop. And each time, PSU got it.

LINEBACKERS STOP U

That they did it again against Michigan was no surprise to Penn State’s defense.

“This says a lot about our ability to finish,” said Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who had a team-high 14 tackles against Michigan. “I’ve said it before this season: We’re going to be a completely different defense. We’re going to finish games this season. We made a big point this offseason talking about finishing games.”

Fellow linebacker and veteran leader Cam Brown, who had 10 tackles against Michigan, said the atmosphere was palpable — and so was his teammates’ passion to finish.

“It’s a bunch of hungry competitors,” Brown said. “Honestly, every time we’re on the field, we always talk about getting a tackle… Guys are hungry — especially in a game like this, with a fourth-quarter stop. It means the world when you know everyone on that defense wants it as bad as you.”

As did everyone wearing white in the stands.

“It was electrifying,” said Brown. “It was almost a sigh of relief knowing that we got the job done. Like, ‘Whew, that was close.’ The defense, with that play, we made a big break. That’s going to stay consistent through the season. Honestly, it was a big relief. We earned that. The guys knew and felt prideful about it.”

On Michigan’s two possessions just prior to the goal line stand, it had scoring drives of 65 and 75 yards — both ending in touchdowns, which pulled the Wolverines to within 28-21. The drive that took Michigan downfield to set up the goal line stand took 12 plays overall and lasted almost five minutes.

DEEP THOUGHTS

Penn State head coach James Franklin attributed Penn State’s last-minute stand against the Wolverines to the Nittany Lions’ depth on defense.

“I think our ability to rotate guys in all year long paid dividends for us tonight,” Franklin said after the game. “That stop was huge. I thought that they had a good plan and they are talented, no doubt about it. That stop at the end was obviously critical and guys made plays when they needed to, so I am just proud of our coaches.

“We made some adjustments. They made some adjustments. It was a chess match all night long. But at the end of the day our guys were able to step up and make critical plays at critical moments. That ended the game there. Obviously that stop at the goal line was a huge part of it.”



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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