Week 6: Penn State Nittany Lions
Our game previews are now reaching the midway point of the season. We’ve been through the non-conference and we’ve taken a look at the B1G opener against the defending champions. IU’s Week 6 opponent is another traditional power but, unlike the Buckeyes, Penn State has not yet returned to the elite of the college football world. It’s likely that IU will enter this contest at either 3-2 or 4-1 while Penn State will probably come in at 5-0 (and ranked in the Top 25). IU is 0-8 at Beaver Stadium and just 1-17 all-time against the Nittany Lions so Penn State will be considered a heavy favorite by most.
Week 6: Penn State
Time & Date: October 10, 2015 - Noon
Venue: Beaver Stadium (University Park, PA)
Nittany Lions at a Glance:
Head Coach: James Franklin (2nd Season, 7-6 at Penn State and 31-21 overall)
Last Season: 7-6 (2-6 in B1G)
Nittany Lions Returning Leaders:
Passing: Christian Hackenberg (55.8%, 2977 yards, 12 TD, 15 INT)
Rushing: Akeel Lynch (147 rushes for 678 yards)
Receiving: DaeSean Hamilton (82 catches for 899 yards)
Lindy’s: 4th in the Big Ten East
Sporting News: 4th in the Big Ten East
Phil Steele: 3rd in the Big Ten East
Athlon's: 3rd in the Big Ten East
Why the Nittany Lions could win:
Penn State will be expected to win this game largely because the Hoosiers have never won in Happy Valley and very few people will expect 2015 to be the year in which that streak is broken. Beyond history though, the primary reason the Nittany Lions could win this game is their defense. Penn State had a top 10 defense in 2014 and they return a lot of talent and elite defensive coaching staff. Four of the top six linemen and 75% of both the linebackers and secondary are back and PSU has some elite talent to lead the way. Anthony Zettel is one of the best linemen in the B1G and he’ll be a major problem for the Hoosiers offensive line to deal with. In addition, Nate Sudfeld will be hard-pressed to connect with his young and inexperienced WR corps as three starters from 2014’s excellent secondary are back. Plus, James Franklin is recruiting really well and he is starting to stock the 2-deep with 4-star prospects.
The offense wasn’t good in 2014 but there are some promising things to build on as PSU returns 83.3% of their offensive production. Christian Hackenberg is seen by many NFL scouts as a 1st round talent and the offensive line figures to be slightly improved from the train wreck it was in 2014. The best part of this offense is undoubtedly the WR corps. In fact, an argument could be made that Penn State has the best group of wideouts in the B1G. DaeSean Hamilton had 82 catches as a true freshman, Geno Lewis is a big-play threat and Chris Godwin is a 6’2” sophomore that averaged an impressive 8.2 yards per target. They also have multiple 4-star targets waiting to impress and make an impact. In short, this passing game is going to be incredibly difficult for IU’s secondary to slow down. Akeel Lynch is a fine RB and HC James Franklin has spoken excitedly about Saquon Barkley, a 4-star freshman with game-breaking ability. Penn State’s offense should be improved in 2015, particularly if the offensive line can go from “awful” to “mediocre”. It’s very difficult to win in Happy Valley. Add in an extremely stingy defense, a potentially exciting offense and a major weakness (pass blocking) that IU probably can’t seriously exploit (pass rush) and the Nittany Lions should end this matchup at 6-0.
Why They Won’t Pull it Off:
While IU’s history at Beaver Stadium is depressing, the truth is that those previous losses have no impact on the 2015 matchup. Take away the history surrounding the game and the names of these programs and you are left with an intriguing contest that IU has a chance to win. In 2014, IU took on the Nittany Lions without Nate Sudfeld and ended up losing an ugly 13-7 game. The Hoosiers played that game with no semblance of a passing game and still only lost by six. Having Sudfeld will make a major difference and Penn State’s defense, while elite, proved to be more susceptible to the pass in 2014 (multiple QBs had passer ratings of more than 125). In addition, the Nittany Lions must replace the bulk of their pass rush due to the departure of Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan (combined for 18 sacks). Penn State’s run defense is sure to be top-notch but IU’s offensive line and running scheme has had success against nearly every opponent in the recent past and there’s no reason to expect IU’s offense can’t challenge this PSU defense and score a few TDs.
On the other side of the ball, IU’s 3-4 defense had a strong performance against the Nittany Lions in 2014 and they will have some confidence that they can repeat it in 2015. Penn State’s best rusher last season averaged 4.6 yards per carry and Christian Hackenberg completed less than 56% of his passes and was sacked 44 times. Overall, PSU’s offense ranked in the triple digits in several notable statistics (including yards per game and S&P+) and IU features a front seven that will look to stuff the Lions ineffective running game and pressure Hackenberg. If he doesn’t have time to get the ball downfield to his star-studded group of WRs, Penn State’s offense will once again struggle to put up points on the Hoosiers. One more thing that could help the Hoosiers if this one is close, Penn State’s special teams unit was ranked 116th in overall Special Teams Efficiency.
This week 6 contest is an extremely interesting game. Before this game, Penn State faces Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State and Army so they will be largely untested and should be 5-0. In short, there will probably be a lot of positive vibes around Happy Valley when the Hoosiers roll into town. Penn State’s biggest weakness is the offensive line while IU’s biggest defensive strength should be the front seven (but not necessarily pass rush). If the Hoosiers can get to Hackenberg consistently and come close to the defensive performance they had against the Nittany Lions in 2014, IU will feel good about their chances to get a historic victory in Beaver Stadium. However, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even probable) that Penn State’s elite defense will control the game and IU will leave State College with yet another defeat.
IU Winning Percentage:
We are now more less than 50 days from the season opener! Hang in there everyone, football is coming. For more preseason content and the best IU football coverage, keep checking Hoosier Huddle.