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Penn State Football: Miscues Doom Nittany Lions In Loss

by on September 10, 2016 6:23 PM

The margin for error has always been small.

That among many other things has been as much of a constant for Penn State football as anything the past few years. Make a mistake and the lack of depth and talent won't be able to overcome the simple miscues. The Nittany Lions have heart but that can't make up for the simple fact you can only hold back the floodwaters for so long.

And on Saturday it was no different. Penn State gave up scoring drives of 10, 12 and 30 yards. 21 points the result of mistakes not the result of Pitt's own play.

The shortest of those three came early in the fourth quarter following a long return. Another after a fumble on Penn State's second drive of the game, and then again later in the game. Penn State went from being down 7-0 to 14-0 thanks to a turnover and then 21-7 opening up to 28-7. Finally and perhaps most damaging of all, 35-31 to 42-31 with 10:24 to go in the game.

"The reality is we didn't play smart enough or mistake-free enough to win," James Franklin said after the game. "If you lose the turnover battle and turn the ball over in your area of the field, you're going to have a hard time winning consistently. That was probably the biggest difference in the game."

The mistakes didn't stop there though. Missed tackles, poor technique and drops popped up at the worst moments. On the final offensive play of the day for Penn State it was Trace McSorley looking for tight end Mike Gesicki in the endzone, but yet another self-inflicted mistake resulted in the interception that sealed the deal.

"We ran a wrong route," Franklin said. "We had some guys on the field that aren't typically on the field and we a wrong route...we still had a lot of football left to play, so to turn the ball over in that situation was difficult."

"I think it was me." Gesicki said leaning up against the wall after the game. Later adding that it's usually Saeed Blacknall, who did not dress on Saturday, that runs during that package. A mistake and a costly one at that.

It was a dropped pass by the usually reliable DaeSean Hamilton that truly broke the Nittany Lions' back late in the game. A beautifully run stop-and-go route that would have given Penn State the ball inside the Pitt 30 down just three points and just minutes remaining. But the ball glanced off of his fingers, a catch Hamilton, a veteran to Penn State's struggles the past few years, knew he had to make. And he didn't.

"Forever," Hamilton said through tears asked how long he'll remember that play. "I have to put it behind me, but I'll never forget about it."

If there was any silver lining though, it was that Penn State overcame a lot of those mistakes. Penn State lost in large part because of its own doing, but Penn State also had a chance to win in spite of itself. In years past three drives of fewer than 30 yards would have put the nail in the coffin before the game was ever close to actually being finished.

But finally there is enough talent and enough depth and skill to make up for at least some of those errors. No team can get away with everything, but Penn State was able to make a comeback, a small sign of progress in its own right.

"There's no play that is going determine the game," McSorley said afterwards. "But all plays impact the end of the game."

So Penn State will move forward, there is something to be said for a team that has the ability to overcome the normal setbacks of football instead of overcoming sanction related hurdles but until those mistakes are corrected the outcome will ultimately be the same.

And in the end while it might be a sign of progress, and the margin of error might be larger, winning is really all that matters.

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