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Game Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

It's time to take a page out of Rex Grossman's playbook and let Zander UNLEASH THE DRAGON.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


Who? Penn State Nittany Lions (4-4 (1-4), #44 F/+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (3-5 (0-4), #81 F/+)

Where / When? Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana; 12:00 PM

TV / Radio? Big Ten Network, IU Radio Network (XM 146, Sirius 201)

Tickets? From $50 through Indiana's website, from $27.98 through StubHub.

Vegas? Indiana +7, 44.5 o/u



This is a popular sentiment among Indiana fans across all sports right now. The basketball program seems to be unable to shake the immaturity and foolishness that plagued them last season while the soccer program just dropped an absolute groaner to Michigan State in the last regular season game of the year. But the backdrop to all of that?

Three straight losses by Indiana football. Four of their last five. In the last two games where true freshman Zander Diamont has started, the team has looked non-competitive, hopelessly incapable of moving the ball when it isn't Tevin Coleman doing the moving. Indiana is not projected by F/+ to win another game this season, as even hapless Purdue retains a 65.9% chance of beating the Hoosiers in Bloomington at the end of the year.

A season full of promise, tripped up by a failure to get the last stop against Bowling Green, resurrected by an improbable win over Mizzou in Columbia before being finished for good when Nate Sudfeld's shoulder imploded. This was supposed to be "the year" and, as often happens when IU football is involved, it didn't happen. Indiana need only two more losses in the next four games to clinch their seventh straight losing season, the 18th such season in the last 19 years.

I don't even want to see the numbers.

Me neither, but it's important FOR CONTINUITY that we continually drag out the Five Factors, which are getting closer to reflecting more fully what this team is post-Sudfeld.

Efficiency (25%) Explosion (35%) Field Position (15%) Drive-Finishing (15%) Turnovers (10%)
Indiana 43.4% (50th) 0.86 (60th) 34th 93rd 12.2% (29th)
Penn State 37.5% (108th) 0.69 (125th) 104th 30th 21.9% (117th)

Much like with the Michigan game, these numbers seem to indicate Indiana has a pretty good chance of beating Penn State, as they're season numbers come in much better than the Nittany Lions. But we, as knowledgeable fans, know this simply isn't the case. Indiana's defense, now a woeful 91st in S&P+ will make any offense, including a horrible Wolverines unit, look like Oregon at times. For comparison, our historically horrible defense from last season finished 96th in S&P+. Penn State, however, knows a thing or two about that side of the ball, ranking 23rd, meaning life will once again be difficult for Zander Diamont and Tevin Coleman.

The good news is that Penn State is pretty bad when it comes to scoring points, and particularly inept at running the ball. The Hoosiers will have to rack up a lot of stops to keep their sputtering offense in the game, something they've failed to do all season against inept offenses. That said, Penn State is the worst of the bunch when it comes to scoring points in the Big Ten (unless you extrapolate the Diamont-led Hoosiers out over the course of the season but we don't have to do that la la la).

Christian Hackenberg is in the middle of an interesting (bad) season, which leads me to play my favorite game called GUESS THE QUARTERBACK:

QB A: 63.1%, 1448 yards, 7.13 YPA, 8 TD, 11 INT

QB B: 57.5%, 2038 yards, 6.41 YPA, 7 TD, 10 INT

QB A is Devin Gardner and QB B is Hackenberg. I'm shocked to see his numbers be so much worse than Gardner who is having an absolutely dismal season. With this level of QB play combined with an inability to run the ball, it's becoming pretty clear why the Nittany Lions have dropped four straight and are averaging less than 16 points a game over that span. That average is boosted by a double overtime game against Ohio State, where they only had 17 points at the end of regulation.

But I can sit here and type all day about how bad Penn State's offense is, the fact of the matter is that they're a great bet to score over 30 points because offenses tend to find their groove when the Hoosiers are across the line of scrimmage. The defensive rebuild under Brian Knorr is proving to be a taller task than perhaps we initially anticipated. Though it should be noted that when an offense can't sustain drives and score points, that just makes it more difficult for the defense.

We've attempted 23 passes in the last two games.

Yeah, that doesn't seem right, does it? But the staff has elected to be ultra-conservative with Zander Diamont to disastrous results.

I was sitting up at the HopCat in Broad Ripple last night talking to a former Indiana high school basketball coach who, as an assistant, was coaching a team known for their incredible 2-3 zone (HOLD ALL JOKES UNTIL THE END OF THE BLOG POST THANK YOU), but they had run up against a squad with three excellent perimeter shooters (PLEASE REMAIN IN YOUR SEATS) and were getting killed. At halftime, this assistant told the coach they had to switch to a 3-2 and was initially rebuffed due to a lack of practice with that zone. Undeterred, the assistant said:

"Who cares? We know we're to lose if we keep doing this. Why not try something different?"

So if I had one minute on the sidelines to talk strategy with Kevin Wilson, I think that would be my pitch. Of course it makes sense to stay conservative with short throws and screens to keep Zander out of situations where he may make some brutal mistakes. But the results through two games have spoken for themselves: we can't win this way. Yes, Zander has not thrown an interception, but we can also count on one hand the amount of throws he's made that have passed the sticks. It's time to get reckless and let him throw it downfield. I know he can do it, I've seen his highlight tape from high school. He possesses the physical ability to air it out.

I don't know about you guys, but I'd rather risk making some mistakes and play aggressive than just admit we can't throw the ball and wait for the game to end. Let's do this Rex Grossman style.