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Indiana at Penn State: game preview, analysis, odds, tv channel, kickoff times and more

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The Hoosiers head to Happy Valley where the Nittany Lions (and their Heisman front-runner) are waiting.

Penn State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (2-1 [0-1], #45 S&P+) at Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0 [1-0], #7 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 9/30 3:30 PM, Happy Valley, Indiana Pennsylvania

Channel? BTN

Vegas? PENN STATE -18

S&P+ Projection? PENN STATE 36.9 - 18.8

____________________________________

Under the previous regime, Indiana had a bizarre habit of playing down to the worse teams on its schedule, which lead to a fair amount of maddening results (losing to Wake Forest at home, nearly losing to FCS Southern Illinois at home), while also playing up to the level of the better opponents on its schedule before falling short (seemingly every Ohio State or Michigan game, etc.). With Tom Allen at the helm, and FOUR WHOLE GAMES to go off of, Indiana seems to have kicked the former habit with a comfortable win on the road over Virginia and a comprehensive dismantling of Georgia Southern.

But as far as the latter goes, it doesn’t seem all that different. Ohio State ended up putting enough points on the board late to make just about everyone forget that Indiana had a lead late in the third quarter, and the Hoosiers gave Utah plenty to worry about back in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Now, however, is a new kind of beast. Penn State has as good of a shot at winning the Big Ten and heading to the College Football Playoff as anyone and the Hoosiers don’t get the benefit of playing them in Bloomington this time around.

TO THE NUMBERS!

FIVE FACTORS

- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
INDIANA (#90 offense) 1.06 (104th) 38.4% (104th) 29.4 (72nd) 4.46 (67th) -9 (123rd)
MICHIGAN STATE (#9 defense) .095 (3rd) 34.0% (14th) 27.5 (29th) 4.05 (45th) 0 (59th)
- - - - - -
MICHIGAN STATE (#78 offense) 1.12 (92nd) 40.9% (78th) 30.5 (54th) 4.19 (87th) 0 (59th)
INDIANA (#22 defense) 0.99 (9th) 38.2% (39th) 29.1 (67th) 4.67 (88th) -9 (123rd)

THE OPPONENT

It doesn’t take any sort of nuanced analysis to know that the Penn State offense begins and ends with Saquon Barkley. He’s the best player in college football right now and his fingerprints are all over everything the Nittany Lions do on that side of the ball. He leads the team in carries (66 for 518 yards and 4 scores) and catches (23 for 335 yards and 2 scores). He’s averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 14.6 yards per catch. Over half of his runs go for at least 5 yards and he averages 8.3 yards when he reaches the second level of the defense.

That’s terrifying.

There is hope, if you’re into such things, in that no one played Barkley better last season than the Hoosiers did. Penn State gave him the ball 35 times in Bloomington and he generated 92 yards, good for 2.6 yards per touch. A similar effort is probably impossible now that Barkley has achieved his Final Form, but maybe the Hoosiers can use last year’s gameplan to keep him from getting complete control of the game. Penn State’s rushing attack is very feast or famine. They’re 3rd in opportunity rate but 130th in Power Success rate and Stuff Rate. What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means they’re either busting out big gains or getting stuffed at the line with very little in between, and in short yardage situations in which they need 3 yards or less, they’re not getting it on the ground with much success.

Last year the Hoosiers dared Trace McSorely to beat them over the top (which he managed to do) and I would imagine they’ll employ a similar gameplan this year. McSorely has been solid but unspectacular (66.1%, 1037 yards, 10 touchdowns, 3 picks) and the passing game just seems to be missing the downfield juice it had last year. It’s two top targets (non-Barkley category), Juwan Johnson (14 catches, 197 yards, 1 TD) and Mike Gesicki (17 catches, 148 yards, 4 touchdowns) are each averaging less than ten yards per target. But all that hasn’t really mattered to this point, because you’ll take the quick, short passes and live to fight another down when “another down” just means another opportunity to get the ball in Saquon Barkley’s hands.

If things weren’t difficult enough, Penn State’s defense is just as hard to deal with, ranking in the top 20 for both passing and rushing defensive efficiency. The defensive line, lead by sophomore Shareef Miller (6 TFL/sacks, 5 run stuffs), is one of the best in football (2nd in Havoc Rate) and they have a dynamic and aggressive secondary as well, ranking 5th in Havoc Rate thanks mostly to their ability to get behind the line of scrimmage and tackle the ball carrier, but the unit has 5 interceptions on the year as well.

THE HOOSIERS

We’ll find out really quick if the offensive line has been able to build on their performance against Georgia Southern and the return of Brandon Knight as Penn State’s defensive line, at least on paper, has them completely outgunned. We saw how good Morgan Ellison can be if he’s actually given the chance to take a couple of steps before getting hit, and it’s crucial for Indiana’s unit to win at the line a few times to get the offense in motion.

The Hoosiers have the depth and talent at wide receiver to make things difficult on Penn State’s secondary, but if the quarterback (whoever it may be) doesn’t have time to make the necessary reads and get the ball out, it’s not going to matter.

Defensively, the Hoosiers have been superb at preventing the big play through their first three games (top-30 in the air and on the ground) and it will be critical to continue that success against a Penn State offense that thrives on it. McSorely came in last year and threw for nearly 350 yards on less than 20 completions and that was in a game in which Barkley was completely neutralized.

THREE THINGS

  • DB Health: A-shon Riggins and Marcelino Ball were both banged up against Georgia Southern while Rashad Fant was held out of the game completely as preventative maintenance. This secondary will need all hands on deck to have a chance in Happy Valley and it seems unlikely that Indiana is lucky enough to have all three in the lineup come Saturday.
  • Special Teams: Indiana’s special teams unit is all of the sudden legitimately good. Haydon Whitehead has been an excellent weapon for a struggling offense, averaging 42.2 net yards on his punt and having 69% of his punts either land inside the 20 or fair caugh. Griffin Oakes is healthy and back to being one of the best kickers in the conference, he’s perfect on the year on his point kicks and has 11 touchbacks on kickoffs. Both kickers have helped limit Indiana’s opponent’s to an average starting field position of the 25 yard-line, good for 15th in the country. Then there’s feel-good story of the year, J-Shun Harris, who is averaging over 26 yards per return and has already scored twice on punt returns this season. If Indiana pulls off the upset, it’ll likely involve asserting themselves in the one phase of the game they have the advantage over the Nittany Lions in.
  • Finish defensive drives: Despite Indiana’s success in limiting big plays and an overall great defensive outfit, they struggle mightily once teams get inside the 40-yard line, surrendering more points per trip inside the 40 than all but eight teams. Indiana can’t just keep escorting opponents to the end zone once they breach the 40 and expect to win games. Penn State’s kicker, Tyler Davis has hit 4 of 8 kicks this year and it would behoove the Hoosiers to make the Nittany Lions turn to him inside the 40 yard line if they want to stay in the game.

PREDICTION

I don’t think this is going to go very well for Indiana! I think it’ll be a sloppy first half for both teams that eventually gives way to an easy victory for the Nittany Lions. Hoosiers 17, PENN STATE 38