After taking a week off to lick their wounds, the Indiana Hoosiers are back in action with their first conference game of the season. IU will host the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday.
IU heads into the game with a 2-2 record, while PSU is sitting at 3-1. Penn State’s lone loss comes from a resilient UCF team by three points. The Nittany Lions have issued vicious beatings to Eastern Michigan and Kent State this season, while narrowly beating Syracuse by six in the season opener.
IU has never beaten Penn State since it joined the Big Ten, and the Lions coming to Bloomington are far from pushovers. Last season, IU lost 45-22 at Beaver Stadium.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Stop Christian Hackenberg. The freshman quarterback has looked very good this season. He has over 1,000 yards passing and is completing 62-percent of his passes. If there is an issue with him, its finding the end zone and turnovers. He has five touchdowns to go with four turnovers. The good news for IU is that he is not an option to run with the ball, and is a pure pocket passer. Hackenberg has beaten up teams with his arm, but in his last outing against Kent State he completed just 37-percent of his passes, his worst game of the season. Generating pressure on the freshman will be key for IU as will limiting what’s available to him down field.
- Stop the Run. Penn State is averaging just under 200 rushing yards per game. The Nittany Lions like to use Zach Zwinak to pound on an opponent for short yardage and near the end zone (he already has eight touchdowns). Zwinak is very consistent at getting about four yards, but he rarely will break a run for anything more than 10 yards. Akeel Lynch is the home run hitter for the Lions, as he has nearly as many yards as Zwinak on half as many carries. The one-two combo at running back takes a lot of pressure off Hackenberg and really opens up the passing game for him. If IU can keep Zwinak under his average, and bottle up Lynch they’ll have a good chance of pulling off the upset.
- Break the Defense. Penn State has held all of its opponents to 17 points or less. They have the 13th ranked defense in the country and are second in the Big Ten. IU has been inconsistent with its fast paced offense, but being at home with two weeks to prepare should give the Hoosiers an edge. PSU likes to use creative blitzes that will cause havoc in the backfield. Tevin Coleman’s abilities as a blocker will likely be tested. Nate Sudfeld will play as long as the protection holds up, but if he doesn’t have time expect Tre Roberson to take over. IU has to strike fast and often; the Hoosiers need to put the pressure on PSU and get the defense gasping for air.
- Time. Sudfeld is a very, very accurate passer. When he has time. Protection is going to be the biggest factor for IU this week. If this line can hold up, and it was porous against Missouri, then the Hoosiers will have a very good shot at victory. Giving Sudfeld time to throw opens up the deep passing lanes that Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, and Shane Wynn are all more than capable of exploiting. If the vertical passing attack is there, it puts Penn State on its heels and will open up the run game. The quick strike offense will be key on Saturday.
- Defend Allen Robinson. Last year, Robinson went off on the Hoosiers. He had 10 receptions for 197 yards and three touchdowns. IU has to do something to slow him down. Get physical at the line of scrimmage with him, double team him, Tonya Harding him. He can’t be allowed to go off like he did last season, or IU will lose. CB Tim Bennett will likely be on him all afternoon. Bennett has 10 defended passes so far this season, and is itching for his first interception of the season. There is a good chance Bennett will get it against the freshman QB.
This is a game that IU really needs to win if they want to be bowl eligible in November. IU has games against No. 19 Michigan, Wisconsin, and No. 4 Ohio State this season. They’re not winning any of those. The rest of the Big Ten is no picnic basket either (except maybe Purdue).
That said, I don’t trust IU to win this game. The Hoosiers can keep it close, but ultimately fall to Penn State 35-31.
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