Incredible season opener today for Penn State. I got into Happy Valley just after 1pm, visited with Ben Novak and Hollow briefly before Ubering to Beaver Stadium and tailgating for a few hours. Once the game started, met up with Anthony Christina and headed back to Park Forest Village where we watched the game. Closer than comfortable for most of the game, and ultimately driven into overtime before Penn State’s lucky, somewhat incredible victory.
For the second time in three years, Appalachian State pushed a top-10 Week 1 opponent to overtime—and lost.
It took a late-game touchdown by Trace McSorley and an Amani Oruwariye pick in the end zone in overtime, but Penn State got its win, 45–38. It was, coach James Franklin said in his postgame Big Ten Network interview, “an ugly one, tough one,” but as night fell in Pennsylvania, the Nittany Lions hung on to their College Football Playoff hopes.
Going into Saturday, Penn State was a popular pick to make college football’s final four, despite playing in a contender-laden Big Ten East. By halftime, the conference’s other favorites had logged wins; Wisconsin defeated Western Kentucky, 34–3, on Friday night, and Ohio State charged to a 77–31 win over Oregon State—without its coach, Urban Meyer, who is suspended from in-game coaching for two more weeks. Meanwhile, Penn State was tied at 10 with a Sun Belt team playing a first-year starter at quarterback. …
It looked possible, probable even, that the Mountaineers would get their first major upset as an FBS team, 11 years to the day after they spoiled Michigan’s home opener from the ranks of the FCS.
In the end, though, the game came down to two plays: McSorley’s 15-yard, game-tying touchdown pass to K.J. Hamler with 42 seconds remaining in regulation (a perfectly respectable throw against a Group of Five defense replacing its own accomplished coordinator, which Matt Millen in the Big Ten Network booth described a “Heisman play”), and App State coach Scott Satterfield’s choice to attempt a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-four with 15 seconds to go. That decision to try to pull off a long kick rather than eke out four yards would haunt Appalachian State; the field goal was no good, and in overtime, reality took hold. McSorley and company were able to march down the field, and when Appalachian State got its turn, it barely nudged its way to a first down before Thomas threw the end-zone interception that decided the game. …
Penn State looks like it has ground to gain if it wants to live up to its lofty expectations. The win kept them—and McSorley’s Heisman chances—alive, but with Pitt in primetime next week and Ohio State on September 29, things won’t get any easier from here.