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Penn State holds off Indiana to set up Ohio State showdown in Big Ten

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When everything hung in the balance at the end of this sloppy, mistake-prone afternoon, No. 11 Penn State showed an impressive dose of toughness and resolve.

With all of the their problems before, who would have expected the Nittany Lions to drive 75 yards when absolutely needed, chewing nine minutes of clock in the process?

Without their best playmaker and rugged runner.

With everything to lose coming off a debilitating defeat.

Sean Clifford and his running backs did most of the heavy lifting on the fourth-quarter drive that sealed what became a desperate defeat of No. 25 Indiana on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

The 34-27 decision was not the finely tuned recovery act desired before heading to Columbus with the Big Ten East title on the line.

Not when next week’s Ohio State Buckeyes look like the most dominating team in the nation on offense and defense.

But this will certainly do for now.

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It was the roughest of days, though, to get to that impressive final offensive drive.

The Lions didn’t seem to play with coach James Franklin’s hopeful “urgency” with the ball for much of the day.

Their vaunted defense displayed multiple holes and weak spots yet again. Pass defense and open-field tackling was a misadventure from the beginning.

So maybe it was a good thing they were playing Indiana, after all?

More than anything, the pass-happy Hoosiers were more giving than expected. And the Lions were more than pleased to take advantage. 

After an abysmal opening series on offense, the Lions punted away the ball — only to have Indiana’s top player, Whop Philyor, inexplicably let the bouncing ball hit him before backing away.

The Lions recovered and scored five plays later.

Even worse, the Hoosiers badly bungled and fourth-and-1 situation in the third quarter. They called a timeout, then attempted a fake punt run that was doomed from the start.

The Lions scored two plays after that.

Even more painful? When Indiana got the ball back again it drove deep, only to have receiver Donavan Hale drop the ball in the end zone. The Hoosiers settled for a field goal.

Certainly, Penn State ran the ball more effectively for a second straight week behind Journey Brown and Clifford (combined 155 yards).

But the thin pass game took a huge hit when star receiver and returner KJ Hamler was lost for the game in the first quarter after landing awkwardly on a kickoff return, possibly suffering a concussion.

Meanwhile, promising tailback Noah Cain did not play yet again with an apparent ankle injury, even though Franklin had said he was “90 percent” last week.

It got to the point where Clifford and the offense were trying to hold on in the fourth quarter with runs from Brown and hopeful passes … to someone. Even heralded tight end Pat Freiermuth could not find space or any type of groove (one catch).

Clifford was not prolific by any means but, once again, played smart and gutsy, running when the opportunity arose, eluding pass rushers to find receivers downfield and throwing the ball away when necessary. 

He took some hard hits and got up each time.

The defense played to hold on at the end, too.

Indiana came into the game known as possibly the most improved passing team in the Big Ten and beyond. Penn State planned for this and still struggled to stop it.

Peyton Ramsey completed 31-of-41 passes for 371 yards, spreading the ball among nine receivers. He produced all three touchdowns (one passing, two running) and kept the Lions scrambling and lunging all afternoon.

The Lions answered last, though. Clifford took the final snap on fourth down of that drive and barreled in for the clinching score with less than two minutes to play.



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A Guide to the College Football Bowl Games

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Three big games determine the national college football champion. But there are 40 postseason games in all so that teams from Buffalo to Miami of Ohio each get a shot at some type of postseason glory.

Here’s a look at all the games, celebrating roses, peaches, independence … and Cheez-Its.

Dec. 28, Peach Bowl: No. 1 Louisiana State (-12½) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

L.S.U. is the only team making its semifinal debut. It last played for the national title in the 2011 season, losing to Alabama in the national championship game.

Oklahoma was the most efficient offensive team in the country, averaging 8.2 yards per play. Its kicker, Gabe Brkic, was 17 for 17 on field goals, including a 50-yarder, and 48 for 48 on extra points.

Dec. 20, Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo (-4½) vs. Charlotte

Frisco Bowl: Utah State (-9½) vs. Kent State

Kent State is back in a bowl for the first time since 2012, the longest drought of any of this year’s bowl teams.

Dec. 21, New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State (-4½) vs. Central Michigan

Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern (-5½) vs. Liberty

Georgia Southern passed the ball 136 times this season, and was never intercepted.

Boca Raton Bowl: Southern Methodist (-3½) vs. Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic intercepted the ball 1.6 times a game, best in the country.

Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (-3) vs. Florida International

Las Vegas Bowl: Washington (-3½) vs. No. 19 Boise State

New Orleans Bowl: No. 20 Appalachian State (-17) vs. University of Alabama at Birmingham

Kicker Keith Duncan of Iowa made 29 field goals, four more than anyone else.

Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force (-2½) vs. Washington State

Anthony Gordon of Washington State leads the nation in pass completions, attempts and yardage. Air Force commits just over three penalties a game, the best rate in the country.

Dec. 28, Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Penn State (-7) vs. No. 17 Memphis

It is harder to run against Penn State than any other team; it gives up 2.6 yards per rush.

Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame (-3½) vs. Iowa State

Many football statisticians consider recovering fumbles to be mostly luck. Notre Dame has 17 fumble recoveries, the most in the country.

Dec. 30, Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida (-13) vs. No. 24 Virginia

First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky (-2½) vs. Western Michigan

Music City Bowl: Mississippi State (-3½) vs. Louisville

Redbox Bowl: California (-6½) vs. Illinois

Illinois has six defensive touchdowns, the most in the country.

Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech (-3) vs. Kentucky

Sun Bowl: Arizona State (-5½) vs. Florida State

Liberty Bowl: Kansas State (-1) vs. No. 23 Navy

Navy still has a game to play on Saturday, against Army; it is a 10½-point favorite. Navy ran the ball more than any other team this season, 60 times a game. Second and third were Army and Air Force.

Kansas State’s Joshua Youngblood ran back three kickoffs for touchdowns, more than anyone else.

Arizona Bowl: Wyoming (-7) vs. Georgia State

Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah (-6½) vs. Texas

Texas fell the farthest from its preseason ranking, slipping from No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to a 7-5 record.

Rose Bowl: No. 8 Wisconsin (-3) vs. No. 6 Oregon

Wisconsin made the biggest leap up the rankings, from No. 19 in the preseason poll to No. 8 in the playoff ranking.

Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia (-7½) vs. No. 7 Baylor

Georgia gave up one rushing touchdown all season.

Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Alabama (-7) vs. No. 14 Michigan

Alabama played in all five national semifinals before this season. Although it is ranked only No. 13 after losing twice, it is in the top four in many computer rankings, rather than Oklahoma. Michigan also tends to outpunch its ranking with computers.

Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama is the top passer by adjusted yards per attempt, but many think Joe Burrow of L.S.U., the Heisman Trophy favorite who ranks third and is not recovering from a significant injury, will go ahead of Tagovailoa in the draft.

Outback Bowl: No. 12 Auburn (-7½) vs. No. 18 Minnesota

Auburn played the second toughest schedule in the country, according to Sagarin, trailing only South Carolina, which did not make a bowl. Auburn beat six bowl teams — Oregon, Tulane, Kent State, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Alabama. It lost to three, Florida, Georgia and L.S.U., all of whom are in the top 10.

Jan. 2, Birmingham Bowl: No. 21 Cincinnati (-6½) vs. Boston College

Gator Bowl: Tennessee (pick) vs. Indiana

Jan. 3, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio (-6½) vs. Nevada

Jan. 4, Armed Forces Bowl: Tulane (-7) vs. Southern Miss

Jan. 6, LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana (-14) vs. Miami (Ohio)

This is a new name for this bowl, which was formerly the Dollar General Bowl (and before that the GoDaddy, GMAC and Mobile Alabama Bowl).



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Eli Manning Returns but Giants Lose to Eagles

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PHILADELPHIA — Eli Manning isn’t done yet. Neither are the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz rallied the Eagles from a 14-point halftime deficit, then tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz in overtime to lead Philadelphia to a 23-17 win over the Giants on Monday night.

The Eagles (6-7) ended a three-game losing streak and moved into a tie with Dallas (6-7) for first place in the N.F.C. East. Philadelphia will win the division if it wins its final three games. The Eagles meet the Cowboys in Week 16.

Manning, the two-time Super Bowl most valuable player, threw two touchdown passes to Darius Slayton in his first game since Week 2. Filling in for the injured rookie Daniel Jones, who had won the starting job in September, Manning was 15 of 30 for 203 yards. But his offense faded badly after halftime, gaining only two first downs, and Manning couldn’t prevent the Giants (2-11) from losing their ninth straight game, tying a franchise record set in 1976, when the team opened the season 0-9.

Wentz threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns, including a 5-yard toss to Ertz to tie the score at 17-17 with 1 minute 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Already missing three starters on offense, the Eagles lost wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and right tackle Lane Johnson in the first half and were booed off the field trailing by 17-3 at halftime.

They went three-and-out on five straight possessions before Boston Scott caught a 10-yard pass on third-and-5 in the third quarter. Scott then ran 4 yards to the 2 on third-and-3 and scored on the next play to cut it to 17-10.

Wentz drove Philadelphia to the Giants 29 with just under 10 minutes left but Greg Ward dropped what should have been a 29-yard TD pass on third-and-11. Jake Elliott then missed a 47-yard field goal wide left.

But the Eagles’ defense held and Wentz drove the Eagles 85 yards and connected with Ertz to tie the score.

The Eagles won the coin toss in overtime and went 75 yards for the winning score, meaning Manning never got a possession in the extra period.

Ertz finished with nine catches for 91 yards.



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NBA rejects Houston Rockets’ protest over James Harden dunk

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HOUSTON – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver denied the Houston Rockets’ protest over James Harden’s dunk not counting in the team’s double-overtime loss last week to the San Antonio Spurs. 

Although the NBA disciplined three officials for misapplying the coach’s challenge rule and will work with the competition committee to develop more procedures, Silver did not believe that warranted the league overturning the game’s outcome. 

“While agreeing that the referees misapplied the rules, Commissioner Silver determined that the Rockets had sufficient time to overcome the error during the remainder of the fourth quarter and two subsequent overtime periods,” the NBA said in a statement on Monday. “Thus the extraordinary remedy of granting a game protest was not warranted.”

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni conceded that “I didn’t think we were going to win” the protest. The Rockets lodged one anyway, but the players were not about to question the outcome. Not when Harden’s dunk would have given the Rockets a 104-89 lead with 7:50 left in the fourth quarter.

“We had plenty of chances to win the game,” Rockets guard Austin Rivers said. “So whether that layup went in or went out, the Spurs did a good job of continuing to play basketball. We did a bad job of not finishing the game.”

Officials ruled basket interference after the ball went through the net with enough force to spin around the basket and give an appearance that the ball did not go in. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni protested the call, but he missed the 30-second window to issue the coach’s challenge, according to official James Capers. After the game, Capers acknowledged the dunk should have counted.

“I’m sure we’ll be more aware of it and attentive that we need to get the play right,” D’Antoni said. “I’m sure everybody will be on their toes. That’s the only good thing that will come out of it.”

Otherwise, D’Antoni did not find any solace for the NBA disciplining the three officials.

“I hate it for them. They just made a mistake,” D’Antoni said. “We all make mistakes. That’s the worst part of it. They’re trying to get it right. I think all good intentions. It just didn’t work out.”

After deliberating, the officiating crew informed the Rockets’ coaching staff that they were ruling basket interference on Harden. That prompted D’Antoni to issue the coach’s challenge, a request that was denied after the 30-second time window elapsed from the timeout. The NBA clarified the 30-second time limit for coach’s challenges “only applies when the challenge arises during a mandatory timeout or a timeout called by the opposing team.”

The league added that “because Houston called the timeout in this case, it was entitled to challenge the basket interference call upon being informed of it by the game officials.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 



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