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Penn State Football: How 69 Points And A Reminder From TCU Are Key To This Weekend For The Nittany Lions

by on September 23, 2018 9:15 PM

The reality is the biggest games of the season so often turn on a dime. Even the high-scoring ones have a moment that so often swings the outcome in a different direction. Where teams might be able to make up for mistakes and miscues against lesser opponents, against elite teams, all they need is an opening.

One mistake might be all it takes.

And it has shown in the most recent games of the Penn State/Ohio State series. In each of the past two meetings the losing team has had a two-touchdown lead heading into the fourth quarter (in 2017 Penn State was ahead 15, but I digress). Even in Penn State's 2015 loss to Ohio State to the tune of 38-10, the Nittany Lions faced a 4th-and-two at the Ohio State 15 in the fourth quarter down 24-10.

But in 2015 Penn State didn't convert that fourth down.

In 2016 a blocked field goal and a blocked punt helped turn the tide in Penn State's favor.

In 2017 a blocked punt sent momentum in Ohio State's favor.

There are a lot of reasons all three of those games ended the way they did, but those moments, all of them proved to be pivotal in the final outcome. They have been games that have come down to singular moments as much as they have come down to matchups, schemes and the big picture items.

For Penn State it gives a young Nittany Lion roster a reminder that each play matters and that one simple mistake can be the difference between winning and losing.

The bad news for James Franklin, this team might learn that lesson the hard way if the early trends of 2018 continue.

Consider this: So far this season there have been 69 points as a direct or indirect result of penalties, miscues or mistakes that have worked in the favor of Penn State's opponents. The degree to which each mistake impacted the eventual points is up for a level of debate. For example a missed 44-yard field goal would eventually turn into an Illinois touchdown, but the Illini started at their own 26 as a result of the miss, hardly a massive on-field advantage. Conversely there have been penalties such as an offensive pass interference call that have negated touchdowns.

For comparison, through four games last year Penn State had 14 points surrendered under similar parameters, a blocked field goal and an interception both leading to eventual Iowa touchdowns in 2017.

All of those varying levels of mistakes can be found below. In total there have been five Penn State touchdowns taken off the board, but in four cases Penn State has managed to score again on the same drive. A stat Penn State will be lucky to add to against Ohio State.

App State: +7 points

  • Offsides converts 3rd-and-3 before snap, App State scores TD on same drive during an offsides penalty that allows for free play.

Penn State: 0 points


Kent State: +10 points

  • Offsides negates a 4th-and-5 and later an offsides leads to free play that ends with a TD
  • Trace McSorley interception leads to an eventual Kent State field goal

Penn State: -21 ponts

  • Offensive pass interference negates TD to Juwan Johnson and leads to punt
  • Holding negates TD but Penn State scores TD later during drive.
  • Holding negates TD but Penn State scores TD later during drive.


Illinois: +17 points

  • 44-yard field goal miss equates to Illinois TD
  • Trace McSorley interception equates to Illinois FG
  • Roughing passer negates 4th-and-9 and leads to TD

Penn State: -7

  • Ineligible man downfield negates TD, but Penn State scores TD later during drive.


Pitt: 0 points gained

Penn State: -7

  •  Offensive pass interference negates a TD and Penn State eventually punts

Of course all of this isn't exactly rocket science, turning the ball over, committing bad penalties and making mistakes is a good way to lose to anyone, but when it has been at least a small trend in the early portion of the season, it's hard to ignore.

And as TCU will remind everyone, it will turn a game against the Buckeyes.

Just two weeks ago TCU sat on a 21-19 second half lead and saw the game turn in nearly three minutes flat. A pick-six flipped the game on its head giving Ohio State a 26-21 lead. On the ensuing kickoff an an illegal forward pass by TCU negated a touchdown, then just a few plays later a blocked punt set Ohio State up for another score and suddenly it was 33-21 with 2:57 left to go in the third quarter.

The lesson is an obvious, one that James Franklin and his staff will almost certainly be shouting from the mountain tops all week long.

Beating Ohio State is hard enough, don't beat yourself.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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