Different individuals in IU’s locker room have accepted blame for the Penn State loss.
Senior Mitchell Paige said the loss was his fault because he fumbled the ball twice in Nitttany Lion territory, and IU Coach Kevin Wilson said postgame it was the coaches’ faults for not positioning players correctly.
IU cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby said the blame should fall on the cornerbacks.
“We’re the reason we lost that game, in my mind,” Shelby said. “Although there are other reasons you could attribute as reasons why we lost, we take it personally as the reason why we lost, and we need to be better next week.”
Wilson and Shelby both had the same message coming out of the 45-31 loss — the Hoosiers have to finish games.
For the cornerbacks, that means not surrendering 119 passing yards in the fourth quarter, especially not when the secondary surrendered just 213 passing yards through three quarters. Not when Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was being held to 1.8 yards per carry by the front seven.
Especially not when the offense had negative rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
The Hoosiers had overcome four lost fumbles through three quarters, yet they had maintained a 24-21 lead and limited Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley to 12-of-24 passing.
However, the Nittany Lion passing attack connected on four passes that allowed Barkley to reach the end zone twice and catapulted Penn State to 24 fourth-quarter points.
“It wasn’t that they were doing anything special,” junior cornerback Rashard Fant said. “They just made some great plays when they needed to. We don’t look at it as they dominated us. Some of it was self-inflicted, and some of it was those 50-50 balls where you’ve got to make a play.”
Penn State made the plays, and IU didn’t.
That’s what Fant and Shelby said about the fourth-quarter slack after three quarters of solid defense. The Nittany Lions made the competitive plays that made up for plays — such as two interceptions by Fant and junior safety Tony Fields — that usually lead to victories by IU.
Fant said his interception before halftime that allowed IU to tie the game at 14 was one of the best plays of his career. Wilson said Fields converted on all 10 of his opportunities in the game that he was supposed to make.
Freshman cornerback A’Shon Riggins had his struggles — he surrendered a 54-yard pass and a touchdown pass — and Shelby said his body language needs to improve after those kinds of plays.
“If you play this game long enough, you’re gonna get passed on,” Shelby said. “While I want you to stop everything, that’s probably highly unlikely.”
That’s where Fant comes in.
The junior leads the nation in pass breakups and passes defended this season and is tied with Duke’s Breon Borders for career pass breakups among active players with 46.
Pass breakups aren’t enough for Fant. He wants interceptions, and so does a defense that ranks sixth in the Big Ten in interceptions before heading to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play Michigan on Saturday.
“My thing is turning those pass breakups into interceptions,” Fant said. “I had one against Maryland that got called back, and I had one this week. Pass breakups are nice, but some of those have to turn into picks.”