Here’s why Penn State’s ‘boneheaded’ FG attempt was the turning point in Citrus Bowl loss
Immediately, minutes following every Penn State game, we’ll take a closer look at the turning point to each game. You can find our more in-depth stories after speaking with coaches and players on centredaily.com
Penn State QB Trace McSorley nearly watched his legend grow to unimaginable Happy Valley heights Tuesday.
That is, until the Citrus Bowl’s turning point — until a questionable coaching decision led to a 27-24 loss against Kentucky in Orlando, Fla.
We’ll set it up in a moment. But, for now, let’s look at the background: McSorley suffered a leg injury and missed the start of the second half. At the time, Penn State told reporters he was out for the rest of the game with a broken foot.
Except he wasn’t. Somehow, some way, McSorley came back one series later — puzzling fans, reporters and TV viewers alike. Suddenly, Penn State’s 20-point deficit gave way to a 27-21 score. He was on fire. It looked as if the Nittany Lions were about to complete the unlikely comeback — that is, of course, until Penn State took the ball out of McSorley’s hands. Again. (Feel free to call it “Fourth-and-5, Part II.”)
OK, let’s set it up: Trailing 27-21, Penn State found itself on the Kentucky 14 with about 4:15 left in the game. On fourth-and-7, Penn State opted to attempt a field goal. Stop right there — that was the turning point.
The Nittany Lions still had three timeouts left. Even if they went for it and failed to convert, they’d still trail by a single score and could get the ball back — much like they’d have to do even if they made the field goal.
Well, even if you didn’t watch the game, you can probably see where this is going. Penn State took the ball out of the red-hot hands of McSorley, lined up for a field goal and made it to cut the deficit to 27-24. The problem? Kentucky got two first downs and essentially ran out the rest of the clock. (Penn State got the ball deep in its own territory with a single second remaining.)
It’s the first time all season we’ve highlighted a play-calling decision — which worked! — as the turning point. Mathematically, settling for the field goal was a flat-out silly call. And it ruined what could have been the exclamation mark on a memorable career by McSorley.
The Penn State quarterback deserves a lot of credit for leaving his all out on the field. But, just like it was against Ohio State, you have to wonder “what might have been.”
McSorley deserved better. So did fans. The turning point wasn’t all the special-teams miscues — although they certainly contributed heavily toward the loss — and it wasn’t McSorley’s third-quarter interception.
It was the boneheaded call to attempt a field goal 14 yards shy of the end zone. It was as if Penn State simply took a knee on play-calling.