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Penn State followed last week’s loss to Ohio State with an uninspiring performance against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday afternoon, where they didn’t pull away until the closing minutes of the game. Despite that, the Nittany Lions still earned a 33-24 victory in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Slow starts plaguing offense
Penn State hasn’t been able to get going on offense early in games, and Saturday’s matchup with the Hoosiers was no different. The Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of the game came on a 32-yard drive thanks to a muffed punt by Indiana, and Penn State didn’t score again until less than three minutes left in the half. The play-calling continues to be a concern with first- and second-down runs often setting up long third downs.
Even when Drew Allar had opportunities to throw, his receivers struggled to get open, and he did not find them when they did. An injury to Harrison Wallace III, who left the game and returned with a sling on his right arm, did not help matters. A slow start could be excused against an elite Ohio State defense last week, but it’s inexcusable against an Indiana defense that has been steamrolled by opponents all season.
WR Harrison Wallace III’s absence hurts bad offense
Wallace going down with an injury midway through the first quarter and coming back in a sling hurt the offense in this game. But, if it becomes an extended absence, an already bad offense will suffer greatly. He’s been the team’s second-best receiver this season and one of only a few targets Allar has trusted in key situations. Not to mention, he’s been the most reliable of the position group, finishing his routes and hauling in most of the passes that are in his catch radius.
Not having him will force the team to go to Dante Cephas, Malik McClain and myriad other receivers who have struggled to see the field for most of the season. And while the struggles at the position have led to Penn State putting two tight ends on the field more often, adding a third isn’t a viable option because of the athleticism deficit it would put the offense at. Wallace’s status will be key if this offense ever wants to get right down the stretch of the season.
Penn State struggles with big plays — on both sides of the ball
A lack of big plays has been a major issue for the offense all season, but it wasn’t alone in that regard Saturday afternoon. The defense gave up two long passing plays — one for 90 yards and one for 60 — that resulted in Indiana’s first two touchdowns of the day. The defense otherwise played well, but the Hoosiers hanging around despite that shows how valuable hitting on those big plays is to an offense.
The first touchdown came on a play that DeQuece Carter beat the Penn State secondary down the sideline on, giving QB Brendan Sorsby room to hit him streaking down the field. The second looked like a miscommunication, with a corner blitzing and PSU safety Jaylen Reed failing to get to Donaven McCulley in time. Both are mistakes the Nittany Lions can’t afford to make.