This week we fire back up with our first conference game of the season. Both Indiana and Penn State are coming off of bye weeks, so both teams have had plenty of time to gear up for this showdown. The Hoosiers will be looking to prove that they still belong in the bowl bid discussion and a place in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten. Penn State's goal is to keep Indiana from it's first victory over them in the history of the series as well as continuing to show growth towards the future.
Obviously that continued growth and the biggest threat from Penn State's offense comes from the true freshman Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg has looked quite good in his first four career starts in college football. While the competition has been iffy at times, Hackenberg has still done what was needed to get Penn State in a position to win. Hackenberg, like Sudfeld has still looked his age at points with his 4 interceptions on the season, but he's completed 70% of his passes in three of four games this season.
The anomaly comes in Penn State's most recent game. The Nittany Lions trucked Kent State 34-0 but it had little to do with Hackenberg. From a season of very good numbers, this one game set him back a bit. He only completed 37% of his passes and threw 1 TD to 1 pick. Not pretty, but then again it didn't need to be. On the other end he played great in Penn State's only loss to a good Central Florida squad. Hackenberg can punish you with his arm if necessary.
Other than Hackenberg, Penn State is going to rely on Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch to grind out yards on the ground. Currently 50th in the nation in rushing, Penn State grabs about 200 yards a game on the ground. Zwinak most of the damage for Penn State by being that between the tackles, ground and pound type player. Not often does he bust out big runs for a lot of yards, but he's incredibly consistent at grabbing 4-5 yards a carry.
After hitting you with several drives of Zwinak, Penn State will throw the much quicker and shiftier Akeel Lynch. Lynch will bust out change of pace runs for good chunks and really force the defense to play on their toes. I believe this is probably where the game will be won or lost on the defensive end. Keep Lynch from gashing us in his attempts and we have some good shots at grabbing stops on drives where he's in the game.
Defensively is where Penn State makes its living. They've held opponents to only 14.5 points per game. Which is good enough for 13th in the nation. Of course pitching that shutout against Kent State certainly helps the average, but they've still held three teams to 17 or less. They're going to provide resistance to the Indiana offense.
Specifically look out for Deion Barnes. The defensive end had a lot of hype going into the season and has been iffy on his production to date getting just one sack, but we had the same situation with Kony Ealy of Missouri and we saw how that worked out. Barnes is a super athletic and fast end who has a chance to really feast on our injured offensive line.
IU also has to be wary of some blitzing schemes that Penn State likes to throw teams' ways. CB blitzes and delayed safety blitzes are not out of the norm for this Penn State squad and if left unaware that leaves Sudfeld ripe for the picking. Tevin Coleman will be important from the sense that he may have to stay in and block more than usual due to the different schemes. Coleman being Sudfeld's safety valve a majority of the time makes the Indiana offense much more reliant on the likes of Ted Bolser getting open to provide a bail out option if the pressure gets too high.
That being said, I think we will see Indiana move the ball a little better this week. They've had a few weeks to work out the kinks. Unfortunately so has Penn State. If pressure gets too consistent and we see Sudfeld getting more happy feet, there's a great chance that Tre Roberson gets another shot in this game. Roberson isn't the passer that Sudfeld is, but he's much more capable of extending plays with his feet. Though it seems the offense doesn't really click with him on the field either.
It really is going to come down to the Indiana line giving Sudfeld even just a little bit of time to get receivers up field and making some throws. Don't know if that is going to happen. Therefore I'm pessimistic on the results of this game. I expect a good crowd, but they'll start heading towards the exits after an early fourth quarter turnover by the offense. Penn State ends up taking this on Indiana 24 - Penn State 35