STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State left a bunch of points on the field but didn't allow any for the first time in two years, blanking Indiana 24-0 on Saturday to set up the next Big Ten Game of the Century.
The victory, Penn State's ninth straight, stage-set a duel of top-five teams in Iowa City next week. Penn State and Iowa, both 5-0, likely will be ranked third and fourth, respectively, when the AP Top 25 is released Sunday. Iowa remained unbeaten with a 51-14 win at Maryland on Friday night.
As a result, Penn State will play its first game featuring two top-five teams since 1999. The No. 3 Lions opened that season with a 41-7 win over No. 4 Arizona at Beaver Stadium.
Here's the breakdown.
Jahan Dotson Dazzles Again
Earlier this week, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Jahan Dotson as the top receiver and No. 8 overall prospect of the 2022 NFL Draft. Dotson continues to make Kiper look good.
Dotson caught at least one touchdown pass for the sixth consecutive game, snaring a Clifford laser in the back of the end zone. His hands and feet worked in such perfect unison on the play.
Dotson caught another one late in the third quarter on a play that underscored the dynamic between him and Clifford. The quarterback began scrambling on 4th-and-4, drawing a defender from Dotson, but always kept his eyes high. In doing so, he saw an uncovered Dotson, who followed a Brenton Strange block to the end zone and a school record.
The touchdown pass was the 18th from Clifford and Dotson, which broke the former record of 17, held by Todd Blackledge (who was in the ABC booth) and Kenny Jackson.
Dotson has caught 35 passes without a drop this season, most in the Big Ten according to Sports Info Solutions, and has scored touchdowns in seven straight.
Penn State's defense scored its first shutout since routing Mayland 59-0 in 2019 and the first against Indiana by anyone since 2000. The defense was dominant all night and delivered the game's turning point early.
Late in the first quarter, quarterback Sean Clifford foreshadowed his shakiness by hanging a pitch intended for Parker Washington. Indiana's Raheem Layne returned an interception to the Penn State 13-yard line, setting up a choice scoring opportunity and recalling Indiana's 2020 first half, in which it scored 10 points off turnovers.
But Penn State's red-zone defense, stoic all season, delivered another scoreless stop. Penix slid short of the first down on a 3rd-and-10 scramble, and Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie stymied running back Stephen Carr for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Penn State 4-yard line.
The sequence marked yet another defensive stop for Penn State, which wasn't done. In the third quarter, linebacker Brandon Smith blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt that kept Indiana scoreless. It was Penn State's second blocked field goal of the season.
The Lions entered the game ranked 10th nationally in red zone defense (61.54 percent scoring rate) and had allowed just five touchdowns. You'll remember that the Lions also capitalized on two Wisconsin turnovers in the opener.
Indiana never really stood a chance. The Hoosiers punted six times in the first half against four first downs. They rushed for just 69 total yards.
An uneven offensive night
Penn State didn't have its best stuff offensively Saturday, particularly in the passing game. Clifford (17-33) finished with his lowest completion percentage of the season, threw an interception and wasn't sharp downfield. He finished 0-for-4 on throws of 15+ yards and hit just 50 percent of his mid-range attempts (5-14 yards).
But Clifford converted a pair of consequential fourth-down throws, one of which went for a touchdown, and shepherded a 96-yard touchdown drive in the first half. He also ran more than usual to escape an effective Indiana pass rush.
Though the Lions topped 400 yards of offense, they'll likely remember the failed fourth-quarter short-yardage series. Penn State couldn't punch in a 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, as Indiana stuffed the Tyler Warren Wildcat and Keyvone Lee on fourth down. Which leads to...
Running the Ball
By the end of the first quarter, Penn State had rushed for 81 yards, already more yards than it did against Villanova (80) and Wisconsin (50). Keyvone Lee highlighted the rebound, bursting through the middle of the Hoosiers' defense for 44 yards, the longest gain of the season. Prior to that, Penn State's longest rush belonged to Clifford (43).
But in the fourth quarter, on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Indiana stuffed Keyvone Lee short of the goal line, another maddening short-yardage moment for the Lions. Penn State certainly ran the ball better, hitting a few blasts inside, and topped 200 yards for the second time this season. But it also relied too much on Clifford.
His game occasionally recalled 2020; Clifford carried the ball 10 times for 58 yards. And while he made some key runs, Clifford also took a few too many hits.