Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
What: Indiana Hoosiers at Penn State Nittany Lions
When: Saturday, October 10 at Noon
Where: Beaver Stadium at University Park, PA
How to Watch: The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. You can also listen to the game on the IU Radio Network.
Gameday Events: It’s Homecoming week for the Nittany Lions. For those who are headed to State College for the game, gopsusports.com has this to say about the week’s festivities: “The Alumni Blue Band will be featured as they join the Blue Band performance at halftime of the noon Homecoming clash with Indiana. The Homecoming court will parade onto the field and the 2015-16 King and Queen will be announced during halftime. The annual Homecoming Parade will be held on campus and downtown State College on Friday night, October 9.”
A Few Things to Look For
1. Injury Questions Abound
Both teams will enter Saturday’s critical contest with high-profile injury concerns. For the Hoosiers, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard both left last Saturday’s game with ankle injuries. After the Ohio State game, head coach Kevin Wilson mentioned that both players wanted to re-enter the game in the fourth quarter but IU opted to hold them out. If Nate Sudfeld is unable to play on Saturday, the Hoosiers will rely on Zander Diamont to command the offense. The sophomore from California appeared to be a much-improved player in his limited action last Saturday but keep in mind, Penn State shut Diamont and the Hoosiers down in last year’s contest between the two B1G East foes. Jordan Howard’s injury likely means more carries for Devine Redding. Unfortunately, Ricky Brookins also left the Ohio State game with injury so IU will turn to Andrew Wilson, Alex Rodriguez and perhaps even Mike Majette to help share the load if Howard is unable to play. In addition to the injuries, Indiana’s top defensive tackle, Darius Latham is still serving an indefinite suspension stemming from an investigation by the IU Office of Student Ethics. Latham’s status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
The Penn State Nittany Lions have a few injuries of their own. Running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both missed last Saturday’s game due to injury and their status for this game is unknown. They weren’t listed on Penn State’s depth chart but James Franklin has said that doesn’t mean anything for their status. Missing either player (but particularly Barkley) would be a damaging blow for an offense that has struggled to find its way.
2. Can IU’s Defense Lock Down the Struggling PSU Offense?
Penn State’s offense hasn’t been pretty this season. Despite the presence of presumptive first round NFL draft pick Christian Hackenberg and a lot of talented skill position players, the Nittany Lions rank 12th in the league in rushing offense, passing offense and scoring offense. In total, they rank dead last in the conference on offense. Two major reasons for their offensive struggles are the offensive line and their inability to convert on third down. In fact, PSU is converting on only 30% of third downs, the worst mark in the B1G. Their offense checks in as the 116th best offensive unit in the nation.
James Franklin spoke about his team’s struggles on third down and what they can do to alleviate them. “We’ve got to improve on third down. That’s going to be with protection and contested catches, which actually Chris Godwin has done an unbelievable job of.”
I’ve watched most of the snaps for this Penn State offense and I can’t quite figure out why their numbers are as bad as they are. They have plenty of talent at wide receiver (DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins), a pair of very good running backs in Barkley and Lynch (if they are out, IU catches a major break) and a good quarterback. The offensive line is bad but I do think it has made a bit of progress from last season. Brandon Polk is a potential playmaker that the Hoosiers will need to watch for on quick passes or jet sweeps. Penn State’s offense needs a big play in order to mount scoring drives. So far this season, they haven’t been capable of “nickel and diming” their way down the field. To put it simply, if they can’t break an explosive play, they don’t have a scoring drive. Therefore, the keys when IU is on defense are: put pressure on Hackenberg by beating this offensive line, limit the running game and don’t allow explosive runs, don’t help Penn State gain rhythm by committing penalties and keep Penn State struggling on third down.
3. Facing an Elite Defense
Obviously, evaluating what IU’s offense is going to look like and how they can attack this terrific Penn State defense is rather difficult due to the uncertain status of Howard and Sudfeld. Whomever is playing is going to have their hands full operating against this defense in front of more than 100,000 opposing fans. The Nittany Lions are only giving up 15.8 points per game and are ranked as the 16th best defense in the country by the S&P+ rankings. The secondary is terrific (10th best pass defense ranking) and Penn State’s front four and linebackers create such disruption that it will be very tough to move the ball through the air. Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson might be the top interior line duo in the league and linebacker Jason Cabinda has really stepped up to lead the linebackers. Carl Nassib is a game-wrecker that IU has to be very careful with. The senior defensive end already has eight sacks on the season. It would be a huge help to have Jordan Howard’s physical running style back for this contest. If he’s unable to go, I worry about IU’s ability to run the ball consistently and if Penn State’s defense is able to tee off on the passing game and rush the passer, the offensive line must be up for the challenge.
4. Ignore the History
As many of you are well aware, IU has never won in State College. The last time IU visited Penn State was 2012 and the previous history really has absolutely nothing to do with this current crop of Hoosiers. IU’s players and coaches will be focused on getting to 5-1. Winning at Penn State would be a massive victory and as a fan, it’s impossible for me to ignore the history. However, the players and coaches don’t need to worry about the winless streak in Beaver Stadium. As the the wise turtle Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda…yeah it’s animated but this turtle really is quite wise and it’s one of my son’s favorites) once said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”