STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State’s best offense on Saturday wasn’t explosive or flashy. It was grinding and relentless and it helped keep the No. 9 Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes alive.
Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten, No. 9 CFP) got three touchdowns from quarterback Sean Clifford who completed 11 of 23 passes for 179 yards and ran for 55 yards in Penn State’s 34-27 win over No. 24 Indiana (7-3, 4-3).
With Penn State ahead by three with 10:45 to play, Clifford led an 18-play, 75-yard drive that burned 9:01 and ended when he plunged in from a yard out to put the game out of reach.
“For our offense to go on an 18-play drive, I haven’t been around many of them,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Journey Brown rushed 21 times for 100 yards and added a score for the Nittany Lions who’ll play at No. 2 Ohio State next week, where the top spot in the Big Ten East will be on the line.
Tight end Nick Bowers caught a 12-yard touchdown pass for Penn State and Jake Pinegar kicked a pair of field goals.
Peyton Ramsey completed 31 of 41 passes for 371 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more for the Hoosiers (7-3, 4-3) who outgained Penn State 462 to 371.
“Offensively, we did things for sure,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “Peyton was effective, tough, gritty. We played a good football team today. We’re a good football team too.”
After going three-and-out to start the game, the Nittany Lions recovered a muffed punt and scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Clifford to Bowers. Ramsey took advantage of a safety blitz on Indiana’s next possession and hit an open Ty Fryfogle 38 yards downfield to make it 7-7.
Jake Pinegar kicked a 47-yard field goal to put Penn State up 10-7, but Indiana took the lead when Ramsey capped a 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run less than three minutes later.
Clifford put Penn State up 17-14 with 1:03 left in the first quarter when he sprinted up the middle for a 38-yard score. Pinegar added a 27-yard field goal to give Penn State a 20-14 halftime lead.
Brown turned another Indiana turnover into a score when he raced 35 yards early in the third. Ramsey scored on another 1-yard run early in the fourth and Logan Justice kicked two field goals for the Hoosiers.
Both teams lost their star receivers in the first half. KJ Hamler left in the first quarter after he returned a kickoff but didn’t appear shaken up as he walked off.
Although Hamler didn’t return, he was seen in the tunnel afterward jumping up and down congratulating his teammates.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Whop Philyor had to be helped to the locker room after he was sandwiched between Penn State defenders, taking helmet-to-helmet contact from both and fumbling away the ball in the process.
MORE THAN RECEIVERS
The Nittany Lions have used tight ends Bowers and Pat Freiermuth effectively as receivers and blockers, and both shined on Penn State’s final clock-killing drive that included 60 rushing yards on 16 carries.
“They weren’t letting up, but we were moving people,” Bowers said.
GO FOR IT?
The Hoosiers were moving the ball on their opening second-half drive until they got to midfield where Allen opted to fake a punt on fourth-and-1 from his team’s 44.
Penn State saw it coming, especially when Indiana called a timeout in order to set up its spread punt alignment and protector Peyton Hendershot bobbled the direct snap, making him an easy target for a gang of Nittany Lions to tackle him well behind the sticks.
Brown galloped for a 35-yard touchdown run two plays later to put Penn State up 27-14.
Indiana had a shot to cut Penn State’s lead to six late in the third.
Ramsey had steered the offense down to Penn State’s 7-yard line and had wideout Donovan Hale open in the corner of the end zone, but Hale dropped the ball and the Hoosiers had to settle for Justice’s second field goal of the afternoon.
Indiana: The Hoosiers kept Penn State’s offense off-balance most of the way. They also got stops on defense until they needed one most late in the fourth quarter.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions, who hadn’t allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season before last week, have now allowed four over their last two games. They continued to give up big plays but made enough adjustments at halftime.
Indiana hosts No. 14 Michigan
Penn State visits No. 2 Ohio State.