STATE COLLEGE – In a perfect world, today would have brought forth the first of several Penn State spring practice reports as the Nittany Lions planned to take the field this week to open camp.
The wide-reaching coronavirus, however, halted such plans for Penn State and sports programs across the nation.
Instead, here's a look back at the five biggest moments of Penn State’s 11-2 season last year to help fill the football void.
These are mine. Let me know if you have others you'd like to share.
No. 5: Sept. 27 at Maryland
Penn State traveled to Maryland in late September for a rare Friday night game in College Park. The contest brought coach James Franklin back to the school where he cut his coaching teeth as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach during two stints.
The defining moment of the game occurred in the first quarter when wide receiver KJ Hamler charged the Nittany Lions’ offense with a 58-yard touchdown reception that further cemented his status as one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic players.
Hamler collected the pass on a slant from quarterback Sean Clifford, bounced off a Maryland defender and put his right hand down on the turf to regain his balance. He then froze a Terrapin defender with a pair of jukes and used his speed to run into the end zone for the score.
No. 12 Penn State defeated Maryland, 59-0.
No. 4: Oct. 19 vs. Michigan
The annual White Out game doesn’t need an introduction. Last season, it not only attracted Michigan to Beaver Stadium, but ESPN’s College GameDay program designated State College as its site for that week’s program.
The No. 7 Nittany Lions hosted the No. 16 Wolverines in a nighttime matchup that carried Big Ten East implications.
The play that receives the nod at No. 4 on this list isn’t one that occurred on the field, but it’s still iconic for the tone it set for the evening.
Michigan received the opening kickoff and its offense jogged onto the field for first down. The Wolverines’ offense was met by a raucous reception by the more than 110,000 fans at Beaver Stadium. The noise generated by the crowd was so disruptive that it prompted Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson to burn his team’s first timeout before the first play of the game to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
Penn State improved to 7-0 with a 28-21 win that night.
No. 3: Sept. 14 vs. Pitt
This year’s Penn State-Pitt meeting marked the 100th and final time both teams would meet for the foreseeable future.
The game was scheduled to kick at noon, but thunderstorms that rolled through Centre County that morning delayed kickoff.
Both teams entered halftime with the score tied at 10, but a 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter by running back Noah Cain with 5:50 left proved to be the go-ahead score for the Nittany Lions.
The biggest play of the day, however, came on the last play of the game when linebacker Cam Brown deflected a last-gasp Pitt scoring attempt from Panthers’ quarterback Kenny Pickett in the end zone to preserve the win.
No. 13 Penn State defeated Pitt, 17-10.
No. 2 Nov. 23 at Ohio State
No. 8 Penn State visited No. 8 Ohio State in late-season action that saw both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes jostling for supremacy in the Big Ten East.
Running back Journey Brown (Meadville High) started in the backfield for Penn State and produced perhaps the Nittany Lions’ most electric run of the season.
With Penn State trailing, 21-0, in the third quarter, Brown lined up in the backfield at the Ohio State 24-yard line. He secured the handoff from backup quarterback Will Levis, shifted to his left and ran into the teeth of the Buckeyes’ defensive line.
Brown shed two tackles at the line of scrimmage, stiff-armed an Ohio State player a yard later and accelerated toward the goal line. Buckeyes’ safety Jordan Fuller grabbed hold of Brown’s jersey at the Ohio State 7-yard line, and the former track star Brown carried him into the end zone for Penn State’s first score of the afternoon.
Ohio State defeated Penn State, 28-17.
No. 1 Dec. 28 vs. Memphis (Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons could have made a sophomore highlight film from just the plays he made against the Memphis Tigers in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl.
Parsons finished the game with 14 tackles, and his two sacks tied him with eight former Nittany Lions for bowl sacks. He earned Cotton Bowl defensive MVP honors for his efforts.
While the Big Ten linebacker of the year made many great plays at AT&T Stadium that afternoon, none was bigger than the one he made in the third quarter that helped propel the Nittany Lions to the win.
Penn State held a two-point lead late in the third quarter when Memphis quarterback Brady White lined up in the shotgun deep in his territory. As soon as his center snapped the ball to him, Parsons made a beeline to the vulnerable quarterback. Parsons corralled White as White attempted to rifle a pass, but as Parsons pulled him to the turf, the football squirted out of his hand and went right into the arms of Penn State safety Garrett Taylor. The safety ran it back for a pick-six that buoyed the Nittany Lions’ lead.
No. 10 Penn State defeated No. 17 Memphis, 53-39.