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3 Things: Indiana 36, Penn State 35

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Awuuooooooooooooo (wolf howl)

NCAA Football: Penn State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

All the ingredients were there.

There was Sean Clifford’s 35-yard touchdown dash at the end of the third quarter. There was Peyton Hendershot’s drop over the middle with four minutes left in regulation. There was the botched squib. There was ... umm ... whatever the hell that offensive performance was. And there was the game-deciding call, left to the whims of the Big Ten’s worst employees.

Indiana, for the better part of forever, has seen moments like these cause upset efforts to unravel, horrifically, consistently, and without apology.

Finally — impossibly — IU found a way to win one.

Michael Penix’s dive to the pylon on a two-point conversion in overtime led the Hoosiers to the result they have long coveted, a 36-35 win over No. 8 Penn State.

Here are three quick thoughts on *exhales* that:

Good God, it happened again There was never a doubt!

*aggressively smashes delete on the post we were prepared to publish*

Hi! Hello. Hoo boy. Wow. I don’t really know what to say, to be honest. Just an incredible performance in defiance of The Brand. Three scores in the final 2:30 of regulation? And Indiana didn’t lose? I’m still processing all of this. You probably are, too.

Saturday doesn’t make up for the nights that came before, the bowl losses, the ever-so-close games against teams a tier above — all of those things. But it’s exactly what this program needs to make a season like this meaningful. Expectations are different this year, for a variety of reasons, and rather than gauge success by counting victories, we’re measuring the quality of those wins. The thought has been that if there were ever a year when IU could beat a Penn State, or a Michigan, or a Michigan State on the road, this is it. And once the Hoosiers show they can do it, they can start to consistently believe it. And that matters. For now. For next year. For the foreseeable future.

One of the best things to come from the Tom Allen era has been the genuine sense of belief that has been bubbling inside the IU locker room. This is a program that is starting to see itself winning these games, trusting that it belongs on the right side of the ledger after 60 minutes. So much of success is a product of confidence, and simply seizing a victory like this one could have huge effects on where IU goes from here, both in the short and long term.

Michael Penix wasn’t sharp, but we forgive him

This wasn’t the season debut we were expecting from IU’s most important player. It was, by nearly every measure, a disappointing, unsatisfying performance from Penix, who never seemed to lock in and make the kinds of throws we’ve seen him complete during his first two seasons. And we’re not just talking about the home run throws. The basic ones were an adventure, too.

On one hand, his rust was understandable. For Penix, Saturday was his first game action in nearly a year after he missed the final four games of last season due to a shoulder injury. For this week, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

But, man. Woof. Not a good start for the guy Indiana needs to be great this year. Penix just flat out missed several gimmes, including a couple potential connections that might have gone for touchdowns had the ball been placed on the mark.

Then again, how about a little help? The entire offense was bleehhhhhhh, and everyone, from Penix to the rookie offensive coordinator, needs to be better in the coming weeks. Again, we’re not ready to lose our minds over this performance. Both Penix and Sheridan redeemed themselves in the final moments, and as we soak in the victory, it feels like that’s all that matters right now.

The defense made this possible

It certainly wasn’t a flawless defensive performance. Far from it. Penn State totaled nearly 500 yards, controlled possession for more than 40 minutes and generally held the physical advantage. But Kane Wommack’s group carried the Hoosiers when they needed the help.

Think about it. After Pat Freiermuth closed the Nittany Lions’ opening possession with an easy touchdown reception at the goal line, Penn State didn’t score again until the final play of the third quarter. This was Bend, Don’t Break at its finest. The Hoosiers had to be exhausted, and yet they pushed through.

There are certainly things to clean up, but performances like this can help with that process. When you win a game like this, the points of emphasis become easier to coach and easier to see.

And from there, it feels like anything is possible.