STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Drew Allar has finally done it. All of it.
After the Penn State quarterback threw the first interception of his career, Allar was faced with the toughest task of his career to date: making a big play to win a game. When Indiana kicked a field goal to tie the score with 2:58 remaining, Allar was his usual, calm self.
“I went over there, gave him a dap and said we’re good,” running back Kaytron Allen said. “We got his back.”
James Franklin regularly refers to Allar as “Steady Eddie,” but Beaver Stadium was on edge. How would Allar respond after throwing a pick? How would this offense, which was far from perfect yet again, move down the field to at least get into field goal range and avoid a monumental upset? After all the questions about whether or not the loss at Ohio State would beat Penn State twice, the outlook was starting to look bleak.
“The big thing we were talking about (on the sideline) is that the time is now,” tight end Theo Johnson said. “We talk a lot about how we’re gonna do this and that and now we got to capitalize on it. We talk all about being that team that we want to be and we got to show up in these moments.”
Allar’s answer came just three plays later as he lofted a deep ball down Penn State’s sideline. Fans jumped up from their bleacher seats as Allar uncorked the kind of deep pass that many have been waiting to see. His goal was to just allow the receiver to touch the ball. KeAndre Lambert-Smith’s eyes widened when he saw the Hoosiers in man coverage with no safety help.
“I was ready to cook, not gonna lie,” Lambert-Smith said.
Drew Allar threw it deep, and KLS made a play. 😏
No. 10 @PennStateFball retakes the lead.
📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/N66bGBCYHU
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2023
Johnson called it deja vu. Johnson saw Lambert-Smith, working out of the slot, rep this play countless times in practice. All week, Allar and Lambert-Smith even stayed after practice to run it some more to make sure they were on the same page, Johnson said.
“We knew just based off of what they gave us in that formation, that was going to be a big play for us in the game,” Johnson said. “We dialed it up in the biggest moment.”
Allar and Lambert-Smith connected for a 57-yard touchdown, Penn State’s longest play since the opening win against West Virginia when Allar found Lambert-Smith for a 72-yard score. The Nittany Lions hadn’t had a completion longer than 35 yards since that September night.
A tense home crowd exhaled as No. 10 Penn State added a safety on the ensuing drive to end Indiana’s upset bid and win 33-24. After a game that featured numerous lapses on both offense and defense, Penn State’s season is still on course at 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten. With one shot play, a growing narrative that’s been brewing in Happy Valley about Allar’s development and the lack of big plays could be quieted, at least temporarily.
Drew Allar’s late TD pass keys Penn State: Takeaways from close call win over Indiana
“I’m never nervous about dropping the ball,” said Lambert-Smith, who had a ball from Allar clank off his hands in the first half. “Coach (Marques) Hagans gave me a good analogy and I’ll never forget it. He said when you get in a car you don’t think about crashing. As a receiver, you don’t think about dropping the ball. Drops happen and I gotta live with them — but I don’t like them.”
Lambert-Smith, who finished with six catches for 96 yards on nine targets, was proud of himself for not letting his drop early in the game linger. He said many times before that was challenging for him earlier in his career.
Penn State is going to need Lambert-Smith and Allar to keep delivering with each other the rest of the season. A struggling receiving corps could be even thinner after Harrison Wallace III exited in the first quarter and headed to the locker room with trainers. He returned with his right arm in sling, and in his place Malik McClain and Dante Cephas took on elevated roles. Cephas had two catches for 15 yards. McClain was held without a catch, though he was targeted on the same play as Lambert-Smith’s decisive touchdown earlier in the game.
“I missed it to McClain on the post in the end zone,” Allar said.
On the Lambert-Smith touchdown, McClain was underneath and was held by an Indiana defender. With Lambert-Smith winning his matchup on the slot fade, Allar didn’t need to look to McClain on the backside post.
“I knew that I had two good options,” Allar said.
Penn State’s offense posted 342 total yards and converted 7-of-18 third downs and one fourth down. There was a smattering of boos throughout the game amid still too frequent lulls. Allar took checkdowns and the running backs — still ready to break one at any moment — finished with Allen leading the way with 18 carries for 81 yards. Nicholas Singleton had 15 carries for 50 yards but was also effective in the passing game, catching five passes for 31 yards, including a long of 28.
In the end, no play was more important than Allar’s long-awaited big-play touchdown to Lambert-Smith. The receiver with the phrase “be the 1, not 1 of” scribbled on his eye black scanned the perimeter of the field as the game clock expired. He was looking for his mom, who made the trip to Happy Valley to see her son.
“It was exciting. Her birthday is Monday and this was kind of like her birthday present,” Lambert-Smith said. “She wanted to come up here with all my siblings. It definitely ended on a good note.”
The rest of this season will be important for Lambert-Smith, a junior who has NFL aspirations, and the trajectory of the offense as a whole. He got the nickname “Big Play Dre” for a reason. Penn State certainly needs to create more big plays, and he’s vital part of it as the offense tries to build momentum with a trip to Maryland on tap before No. 2 Michigan visits Nov. 11.
“We were not perfect in any phase today and we’re the first to admit that,” Allar said. “This was definitely not as clean as we would’ve liked on the offensive end, but at the end of the day, we found a way to win.”
(Top photo: Gregory Fisher / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)