Blue White Illustrated

December 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 7 of 67

8 D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 3 OPENING SHOT DEEP THINKERS Locked in a fourth-quarter battle with un- ranked but stubbornly persistent Indiana, Penn State tried to do something it hadn't done with any degree of success since the earliest part of its 2023 season. The Nittany Lions took a deep shot. The score was tied after the Hoosiers capi- talized on the first interception of sophomore quarterback Drew Allar's career. They had kicked a field goal to pull even at 24-24, and suddenly a game that most fans had likely penciled in weeks earlier as a comfortable victory was very much in doubt. How would PSU respond? By trying to recap- ture the magic of Allar's first few plays as Penn State's starting quarterback. He had tossed a 72- yard touchdown pass to junior wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith on the first offensive series of the Nittany Lions' season opener against West Virginia, but in the six games that followed, PSU struggled mightily to create big plays in the air or on the ground. Although they went into the clash with Indiana on Oct. 28 averaging 39.7 points per game, they were fielding one of the least-dynamic offenses in the country. Allar and Lambert-Smith teamed up to change the narrative. On first-and-10 from the PSU 43- yard line, Lambert-Smith shook free of Indiana safety Jordan Grier. Allar found him on the right sideline just inside the 20. Despite losing the ball in the lights briefly, Lambert-Smith pulled it in and tiptoed into the end zone, fighting his own momentum to stay in bounds. "There was a sense of relief on the whole side- line," Lambert-Smith said. "We needed a score on that drive, and we got one. We kind of put the game away. It was a big relief for the whole sideline, not just Drew." The touchdown gave PSU a seven-point lead with just under two minutes to play, and the Lions clinched the victory moments later when a strip sack by sophomore defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton resulted in a safety and a 33-24 final score. Although much closer than expected, the grati- fying victory for the Nittany Lions showed they were capable of hitting big plays in high-pressure situations. "Drew being able to sit in there and deliver that ball, KeAndre being able to make that play and finish and stay in bounds — it was awe- some," coach James Franklin told reporters in the postgame news conference. "As you guys know, we've talked about it enough. We've talked about it a bunch. We've got to continue to be able to do that." — Matt Herb PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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