Indiana Daily Student

A year after Indiana football upset Penn State, the teams meet again on opposite paths

<p>Then-senior defensive lineman Michael Ziemba and then-junior defensive back Jamar Johnson tackle Penn State then-freshman running back Keyvone Lee on Oct. 24, 2020, in Memorial Stadium. Indiana will face off against Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pennslyvania.</p>

Then-senior defensive lineman Michael Ziemba and then-junior defensive back Jamar Johnson tackle Penn State then-freshman running back Keyvone Lee on Oct. 24, 2020, in Memorial Stadium. Indiana will face off against Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pennslyvania.

Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. needed the full length of his arm to reach the pylon and give Indiana football its upset over then-No. 8 Penn State in the first week of the 2020 season. 

The iconography of Penix’s dive was quickly etched into college football lore. It was put on T-shirts, featured in ESPN’s 2021 season anthem and paraded as a program-altering moment for Indiana.

Indiana turned the dive into one of the most successful seasons in program history. It finished the regular season 6-1 with the sole loss being Ohio State, which finished the season as national runner-up.

Penn State lost five games in a row last year before finishing with a four-game win streak. Its 4-5 record ended a 16-season streak with a winning record dating back to 2004.

“There's no question that it was a big win,” head coach Tom Allen said in a press conference Monday. “How good they are and being a top-10 team at that point in the season, we’d been close with them before, and we were able to find ways to finish.”

A year later, the Nittany Lions have won their first four games, jumping to No. 4 in the ranking while the Hoosiers lost twice to top-10 teams. Heading in opposite trajectories after the matchup last year, they’ll clash Saturday.

With the third-hardest remaining schedule in the nation according to Pro Football Focus, Indiana faces the same uphill climb it did late in the fourth quarter last season.

“I think the ability to experience that whole situation as we've gone through and talked about many times: backs against the wall, playing well at spurts throughout the game, then seeing it slip away at the end,” Allen said. “Those are parts you build in your program.”

Penix said the offense wasn’t on the same page for most of the game last season, but the team’s grit helped them persevere through the poor start.

“That’s something we’re going to focus on this year,” Penix said.” Just make sure that we do a better job this year, make sure that we handle business on our side of the ball. Just staying locked in, staying keyed to the details. What happened last year, we can’t control it.”

The Penn State game became a microcosm of what Penix looked like this year. Through three quarters, he had 52 passing yards, but he finished strong and totaled 170. 

Allen put his full faith in his quarterback against Penn State last season. He was confident in Penix to lead a game-tying drive when Indiana was down eight with 1:36 left. Down 35-34 in overtime, he didn’t hesitate to let his offense go for two.

Penix rewarded him then with a moment that propelled Indiana through an historic season. The bottom tip of the football had made contact with the white sideline the same instant the top crossed the goal line and hit the orange pylon.

In 2021, Penix entered the season with Heisman odds. But six interceptions through three games, coupled with a completion rate under 50%, left questions for Allen about the security of Penix’s starting job.

Penix helped silence those questions against Western Kentucky University, completing 35 of 53 passes for 373 yards.

“Coming out of this game this week against Western Kentucky, there was progress with Michael and his play,” Allen said. “Decision making, different things, different throws. He still has to keep getting better and continue to improve. I expect that to happen.”

Nearly a year after winning a season-changing game, Indiana is facing Penn State again with an opportunity to return to its lofty preseason expectations.

Saturday’s game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. in State College, Pennsylvania and will air on ABC.

Like what you're reading?

Get more award-winning content delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Recap.

Signup today!
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

Powered by Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2021 Indiana Daily Student