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Penn State at Indiana Game Preview: The Hoosiers have one final chance at a big upset in Bloomington

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#10 Penn State is coming to town and while Indiana doesn't need the victory to stay on schedule for a bowl game, they have a chance to get a season-defining victory and achieve bowl eligibility much sooner than anticipated.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (5-4, #53 S&P+) at Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, #9 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 11/12, 12:00 PM, Bloomington, Indiana

Channel? ABC / ESPN2

Vegas? INDIANA +5

S&P+ Projection? PENN STATE, 33.9 - 22.6 (26%)

____________________________________

Sure, Indiana doesn't need this game.

But- man, how sweet would it be?

After last year's ALMOST big wins at home against Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan along with close brushes with Nebraska and a rapidly decaying victory over Michigan State this season, Kevin Wilson and company remain in the hunt for a Big Game Win in front of the home fans. Before the season, a lot of people looked at Michigan State as a potential watershed moment while Penn State was widely considered to be there for the taking.

Things have changed.

Penn State is now exactly the kind of win the program has been hungry for and has failed to get despite valiant effort after valiant effort. Will one finally break Indiana's way? Let's see what the numbers say:


FIVE FACTORS

(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)


Explosiveness 
(86%)
Efficiency 
(83%)
Field Position 
(75%)
Finishing Drives 
(72%)
Turnover Margin 
(73%)
INDIANA (#51 Offense) 1.38 (21st) 42.7% (58th) 30.6 (45th) 3.32 (126th) -3 (90th)
PENN STATE (#15 Defense) 1.29 (88th) 36.5% (23rd) 27.6 (39th) 4.27 (49th) 2 (41st)

Explosiveness 
(86%)
Efficiency 
(83%)
Field Position 
(75%)
Finishing Drives 
(72%)
Turnover Margin 
(73%)
INDIANA (#45 Defense)
1.27 (78th)
37.5% (26th)
27.0 (25th)
4.37 (58th)
-3 (90th)
PENN STATE (#28 Offense)
1.43 (11th) 41.0% (80th) 33.7 (8th) 4.72 (45th) 2 (41st)


THE OPPONENT

Penn State is a tricky evaluation, stumbling through the first month of the season to a 2-2 record that culminated in a blowout loss to Michigan that, as it turned out, said a lot more about Michigan than Penn State. The Nittany Lions haven't lost since and notched an impressive win over Ohio State along the way. Their 9th overall ranking in the S&P+ means they'll be the best team to come to Bloomington all season and it isn't remotely close.

Trace McSorley, incredible name and all, leads the nation's 5th best passing attack that is comprised of low efficiency (92nd) but absurdly high explosiveness (4th) which helps offset the efficiency issues. McSorley has 14 touchdowns against 3 interceptions for 2058 yards on the season, doing it all with just a 55.6% completion percentage. He's complemented with a rushing attack ranked 37th overall thanks to Saquon Barkley and his 1055 yards, 6.3 YPC and otherworldly 8.3 HY/O to go along with 11 touchdowns. McSorley is also a threat on the ground, chipping in 410 yards and 5 scores but has put the ball on the ground eight total times, losing three, which could possibly be significant to someone like Marcus Oliver who has forced four fumbles this season, but more on that later.

Chris Godwin gobbles up the most targets in the passing game, turning them into 34 catches for 509 yards and 5 touchdowns, leading the team in all categories and coming up big for the Nittany Lions on passing downs, where the offense is 12th in the country (15th on standard downs) including being the 2nd most explosive offense on passing downs in the country. Keeping Penn State off schedule simply isn't good enough, as their ability to generate chunk yardage can get them down the field in a couple of plays.

Defensively, Penn State doesn't show a great deal of weakness in any particular area outside of limiting explosiveness in the run game in which they're a dreadful 118th. They do a wonderful job of getting stuffs at the line and limiting successful plays, but when a runner does shake loose into the second level, things get sideways very quickly for the Nittany Lions. They're 36th in Havoc Rate fueled primarily by their defensive line lead by Garrett Sickels and his 13.5 combined TFL / sacks.

Marcus Allen and Malik Golden, both safeties, lead Penn State in tackles while each tallying 4 and 3.5 (respectively) tackles for loss. This helps explain the run defense, as it suggests the Nittany Lions are stacking the box early and often to prevent successful run plays, but when someone does shake free, there isn't a safety valve in front of the play.

THE HOOSIERS

That defensive weakness for Penn State actually dovetails somewhat nicely with the Hoosiers rushing renaissance. Indian remains a poor running team overall, but has seen their explosiveness creep up in the past few games (now 40th) thanks to some big runs from Devine Redding and Zander Diamont. Unfortunately, less efficient and explosive runs from the likes of Tyler Natee and Devonte Williams is hurting the effort overall, along with the loss of Mike Majette for the foreseeable future, who has been Indiana's most explosive runner (outside Diamont) this season.

Richard Lagow had an Extremely On-Brand game against Rutger, taking turns between killing and rescuing the offense throughout the first half before locking in for the second half and erasing the deficit. Lagow has taken the heat on this blog and elsewhere for his interceptions, and they are undoubtedly an issue, but it's easy to see why the staff recruited him and how he won the job. The arm is the real deal and with some more maturation, you can expect him to force the issue less and be more consistent. Indiana's best chance at offensive success this season is with him under center, I don't think that can be questioned at this point. His 13 interceptions will be talked to death, but his touchdowns (15), completion percentage (61.4%), yards (2,574) and ability to avoid sacks (4.9% sack rate) are all among the best in the Big Ten.

For the third straight week, Indiana's defense came out of halftime with far better execution and success, racking up stop after stop to give the offense plenty of opportunities to pull ahead. The unit is now 25th overall in Havoc Rate (8th among DBs) and it's a testament to Tom Allen to not only get the unit to execute fundamentally sound defensive play, but also greatly amplify the team's ability to make big plays on defense. Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver are having monstrous campaigns while freshman Marcelino Ball, while occasionally making a big error (see: Rutger's first touchdown) continues to make three or four incredible plays every week (see: just about any screen pass Rutger attempted).

THREE THINGS

  • FINISH DRIVES GOOD GOD: Against lowly Rutger, Indiana had one of their worst performances with regard to scoring once they reach plus territory and are now 126th (out of 128) when it comes to points per trip inside the 40. The field goal unit is a complete mess and the offense seems incapable of operating on short fields. It's getting awfully late to change their stripes, but if Indiana wants to be in this game on Saturday, they're going to have to make good on just about every opportunity they get.
  • Timely Defense: Three weeks in a row now the defense has started slow and that's reflected in their S&P+, here are their rankings, quarter-by-quarter: 119th, 41st, 19th, 26th. An offense has good as Penn State's could end this game in the first quarter if Indiana responds to it like the 119th-ranked defense would. They'll have to play well from the jump to have a chance in this one.
  • RIP Surf'n'Girth?: The Tyler Natee / Zander Diamont read-option got off to a bang against Rutger, resulting in a long touchdown run for Diamont but then failed to get much going after that, including a costly turnover that gave the Scarlet Knights a touchdown. While we shouldn't have seen the last of either player this season, as they both have a unique skill set to offer the team, it'll be interesting to see if that particular package ever reappears this season. Kevin Wilson seemed far from committed to it and may shelve it for the next wrinkle he thinks up.

PREDICTION

It's helpful for Indiana to get this game at home, and I know we're all waiting for the day they finally knock off a big time opponent in Memorial Stadium. We thought it had happened against Michigan State but it turns out the Hoosiers probably should have beaten the Spartans by a lot more than a field goal in overtime. The Nittany Lions last two road games are an absolute drubbing of #114 Purdue and getting trucked in the Big House by #1 Michigan. The #53 Hoosiers fall roughly halfway between those two so I'm predicting another tight one in Bloomington, with Indiana falling just short ... again. NITTANY LIONS 27, Hoosiers 23