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Penn State Nittany Lions

No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions Football at Indiana Hoosiers: Game Preview

Penn State hits the road to try to end a two-game skid.

(18)Penn State (4-2, 1-2) vs. Indiana (4-3, 1-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN

The Betting Line: Penn State -14

TV: ABC- Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst), Todd McShay (sideline)

Weather: A cool and clear day, with a high of 57 that will gradually drop into the 40s by nightfall.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 40-19, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 64-34, 7th Year

VS. INDIANA: 4-0

Tom Allen:

INDIANA RECORD: 9-11, 2nd Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

NOW THE FUN PART….

INDIANA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

For years, the Hoosiers were known for a potent offense and a leaky defense. While the defense has seen some improvements, the offense has come back down to earth.

Leading the way is Peyton Ramsey, a dual-threat quarterback who is in the midst of a solid sophomore campaign. Ramsey specializes in short and intermediate passes, and has the accuracy to dink-and-dunk down the field. He is also one of the most mobile quarterbacks the Nittany Lions will face this season, and is regularly used on design runs as well as scrambling to pick up yardage when needed.

Ramsey’s arm has gotten a workout as of late, as the Hoosiers have been airing it out more during Big Ten play. He’s had at least 40 attempts in the last four contests, averaging 44.25 passes per game. While he’s completing 68 percent of passes on the year, he does have a penchant for interceptions. During a 42-16 loss to Iowa on Saturday, Ramsey managed to go 31 of 42, but also threw two inopportune picks. On the season, he has 12 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions.

Ramsey does an outstanding job of spreading the ball out, making life difficult on defenses trying to shut down any specific receiver for the Hoosiers. Indiana has seven different receivers who have between 19 and 24 catches on the year. J-Shun Harris II leads the way with 24, and recently had a 104-yard receiving performance against the Buckeyes secondary. Harris is just 5-8 and 176 lbs., but like KJ Hamler, can make a defense pay with his blazing speed. While not as much of a deep threat, Harris is often used on screens and short passes in lieu of a traditional running play.

Junior Nick Westbrook leads the team in receiving yards with 289, but has had a quiet season outside of the Ohio State and Rutgers games (109 and 62 yards, respectively). Sophomore Ty Fryfogle has been getting more looks in the past few weeks, and is coming off his best game after catching four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Hawkeyes.

The Hoosiers have a talented young running back in freshman Stevie Scott, who has seen less carries in recent weeks as the Indiana offense has become more one-dimensional. He had 69 carries in the first three weeks, which included a 204-yard effort against Virginia and 114 against Ball State. However, he’s only had 17 carries in the last two weeks. He is coming off his least productive game of the season, rushing for 29 yards on eight carries against Iowa.

Indiana’s offense matches up fairly well against the Penn State defense. It’s short passing game and mobile quarterback could give fits as the linebackers and safeties have struggled in coverage throughout the season. A key stat for this game will be third down conversions for the Hoosiers. If Indiana is regularly able to convert, they will set up a few long scoring drives and gradually wear down the Nittany Lions defense.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. INDIANA DEFENSE

While Indiana’s defense still has much room for improvement, the unit has made some strides under Tom Allen. Indiana got off to a great start, holding Virginia to 16 points and Ball State to 10 in early-season victories. However, they have allowed 49 points to the Buckeyes and 42 to Iowa in the last two weeks as the quality of offense on the other side of the ball has greatly increased.

The Hoosiers do a good job of getting in the backfield and being disruptive. They have eight players with at least 2.5 TFLs on the season, making it difficult to focus slowing down any specific defenders. Leading the way is “husky” (the name for the linebacker/defensive back hybrid in the Hoosiers 4-2-5 defense) Marcelino Ball with five. He is also tied with two others for the team lead in sacks, with two on the season.

Statistically speaking, Indiana’s defense is basically right in the middle of the pack nationally for first half of the season. The Hoosiers rank 67th in run defense, 71st in passing defense, 80th in scoring defense and 70th in total defense. So while there is nothing you can point to as a strength, there are no glaring weaknesses either. The biggest takeaway could be the possibility of Miles Sanders having another big day after managing 162 yards against Michigan State- the nation’s top run defense that was previously only allowing 33 yards PER GAME on the ground.

Penn State absolutely will need to get its aerial attack back on on track following an abhorrent performance against the Spartans, who have one of the very worse pass defenses in the nation. While the Hoosiers are better at defending the pass, their secondary is coming off two dreadful performances. They allowed Dwayne Haskins to throw for 455 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago, and then was lit up by Iowa’s Nate Stanley, who had 326 yards and six touchdowns on Saturday. Penn State must absolutely work out its kinks through the air on Saturday, before facing a murderer’s row of defenses in Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin the following three weeks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Indiana has a solid kicker with an even better name in Logan Justus. He’s made eight of 10 field goals on the season, but only one has been over 40 yards. Haydon Whitehead is an Australian-style punter that is the definition of steady who rarely, if ever, has a bad punt. His average is 40.5 yards on the season with a long of 58.

Penn State punter Blake Gillikin has been his usual spectacular self, coming off a strong performance where he averaged 45.5 yards on eight punts against Michigan State (fun fact: Gillikin had 13 total punts in the first four games, and 18 combined in the last two against Ohio State and Michigan State). Gillikin may also find himself as the team’s new placekicker, as true freshman Jake Pinegar continues to struggle. Pinegar is just four-of-eight on field goal attempts, and has missed all three attempts of 40 or more yards.

In addition to being the Hoosiers’ leading receiver, J-Shun Harris II is also a factor at punt returner. He is averaging 12.6 yards per return on the season that includes an 86-yard touchdown. Indiana has not been able to manage much productivity on kickoff returners, with a season-long return of just 28 yards.

Indiana is one of the better teams at defending punt returns, and one of the worst when it comes to defending kickoff returns. If this trend continues, it could result in a big day from KJ Hamler, who can get downfield in a blink of an eye when he sees even the smallest of openings.

PREDICTION

Penn State-31 , Indiana-24

I’m still having a hard time making sense of Penn State following the absolutely befuddling performance against Michigan State. They were playing a very banged up Spartans squad, following a bye week, following their best week of practice in years, and just went out and laid an egg. Perhaps we need to accept the fact that this may be an unpredictable team, that can go out and play lights out and win by 40, or could lose to the same team in the closing moments.

What bothers me about this game is the match-up of Indiana’s offense against Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions have shown great strides on defense in the last two weeks, but with an accurate quarterback who can move the ball with his legs I could see Indiana pulling together a few drives by dinking-and-dunking its way down the field. If they do so, it will be up to the offense to prove that last week’s dreadful performance was just a fluke, and they can put the mistakes aside and find consistent production out of its playmakers.

I think they do just enough to come away with a victory, and Nittany Lions fans are able to breath the slightest sigh of relief before preparing to play three ranked teams in a row- a stretch that will really show what this team is made of.

McSorley gets back on track by tossing for 290 yards and two touchdowns, with 75 more yard on the ground and another score. Miles Sanders continues to be his impressive self, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown. KJ Hamler does what KJ Hamler does, catching his sixth touchdown pass in his first even games.

On defense, Shane Simmons makes the most of his gradual return with a strip sack and two TFLs, while Shareef Miller contributes two sacks of his own. Amani Oruwariye bounces back with a key interception in the second half.

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