The image is one of the more iconic in Indiana football history: quarterback Michael Penix Jr. stretching his full body length toward the goal line while contorting to avoid a white-and-blue-clad defender.
Penix's desperate reach for the line got the two-point conversion and gave the Hoosiers a 36-35 win over then-No. 8 Penn State in the opener of the 2020 season. After that, the teams diverged: Indiana enjoyed its best season in 50 years, while the Nittany Lions slumped to an 0-5 start.
On Saturday, Penn State gets a chance for some payback when the Nittany Lions, now No. 4 with a 4-0 mark, play host to Indiana (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) at Beaver Stadium. There are likely to be more than 106,000 fans – arranged in alternating blue and white chunks for Penn State's “Stripe Out”, a cousin of its famed “White Out.”
Indiana has never won at Penn State, going 0-11 since the teams first met in 1993.
“It's going to be a great atmosphere over there,” Hoosiers linebacker Micah McFadden said. “They've always got a great crowd. But obviously coming off of last year they'll definitely be looking for a little revenge. I think it's up to us having a great week of practice and getting everything lined up and performing during the game. As long as we do that, I think we can match up well.”
The Nittany Lions insist that revenge is not what they're looking for, though it's clear they're still unconvinced that Penix actually got the ball across the goal line.
“Hey, it happened,” Nittany Lions defensive end Jesse Luketa told Penn State's student newspaper, the Daily Collegian. “I'm not gonna talk about the controversy of last year's Indiana. The only thing that matters is this year's Indiana and how we're preparing to go 1-0.”
Penix's stretch for the goal line was a Superman-like leap, but the southpaw was anything but super in Indiana's first three games this season, tossing four touchdowns against six interceptions. He had a breakout game against a less-than-impressive Western Kentucky defense last week, throwing for 373 yards in a 33-31 win.
Penix will be without one of his top targets, however, as slot receiver D.J. Matthews, an explosive Florida State transfer, will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL suffered against the Hilltoppers. In his place in the slot will be a bevy of players, including usual wide receivers Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall and emerging pass-catcher Jacolby Hewitt.
Indiana will also have to get tight end Peyton Hendershot involved again after he had six catches for 94 yards a week ago.
Penn State's defense is led by three All-Big Ten players in the secondary, including two-time first team All-Big Ten standout Tariq Castro-Fields. The Nittany Lions have big play ability on offense with receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington and quarterback Sean Clifford has been a dual-threat playmaker after an up-and-down 2020 campaign.
Indiana set a goal before the season of getting to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Despite a 2-2 start, that remains a possibility for the Hoosiers. Upsetting the surging Nittany Lions on the road would put them firmly on that path.
“This is one of the toughest places to play in the country,” coach Tom Allen said. “That's exciting as well. I've coached in a lot of these types of venues. It's why you do what you do.”
Note: Indiana cornerback Jaylin Williams, a second team All-Big Ten honoree in 2020, has been in concussion protocol this week. Allen said Thursday the Hoosiers are optimistic he can play this week, but won't know for sure until game time.
Indiana at Penn State
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
Records: Indiana (2-2), No. 4 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
Radio: 92.3 FM