It is revenge time for the fourth ranked Nittany Lions as they are slated to play the Indiana Hoosiers under the lights at Beaver Stadium this Saturday. Last season kicked off with one of the most heartbreaking and season disrupting “losses” when Indiana defeated Penn State by one point in overtime on a questionable two-point conversion from veteran QB Michael Penix Jr. We all know how the rest of that season went so there is little reason to rehash that.
Indiana has given Penn State a tough time in many games in recent history despite only coming up with that one win during Franklin’s tenure. Despite the #4 ranking Penn State holds and the 2-2 record Indiana currently has, this game should not be taken lightly.
Indiana still has many impressive veteran players on their offense and defense including all-conference worthy linebacker Micah McFadden. He came up with 11 tackles last year against the Nittany Lions and is third in team tackles this year already despite missing some time from a targeting ejection. Their defensive end Ryder Anderson is also having a nice season already with 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. The ground game, exposed as the one obvious weakness for Penn State last week, is going to have to get going in order to achieve some success in this game. It will be tough, but I am confident that last week was a hangover and that there will be some improved rushing success with more carries from Noah Cain and the emergence of John Lovett who seems to be the most explosive back in the room at the moment.
Indiana’s impressive defensive resume does not stop there however because they have an All-American cornerback in Tiawan Mullen who is bound to give Jahan Dotson some problems. I imagine that after the last few games Sean Clifford has had, Indiana will be respecting the passing game more than teams have throughout the first four contests. This should open up some rushing lanes. It will likely take a balanced approach to defeat the Hoosiers this weekend and Mike Yurcich is going to have to find ways to get the air and ground game going including getting Jahan Dotson some space.
On the offensive side of the ball is where it is clear Indiana has regressed from last year. Despite playing a very tough schedule to this point including games at Iowa and against Cincinnati – the QB play and the ground game for Indiana have been practically non-existent. They carry the ball for about 3.5 yards a play (similar to Penn State’s ground game) and nobody yet has emerged as a true threat on the ground like Penn State had faced in Chez Mellusi or Tank Bigsby.
Michael Penix Jr, who seemed to be the consensus ‘best QB in the Big Ten’ in the preseason, has been beyond disappointing to this point. Playing like a shell of his former self, Penix is completing only 55% of his passes including 4 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He has taken 7 sacks already and has rushed 15 times for -32 yards. To be completely fair, he has played great defenses in Iowa and Cincinnati, but Penn State’s does not get any easier. He has played some great football in the past but has had 3 consecutive season ending injuries and sadly looks the part. His biggest and best weapon is his all-conference level Wide Receiver, Ty Fryfogle. Last season he had 37 receptions for 721 yards, 19.5 yards per reception, and 7 touchdowns. Shutting him down and keep the running game at bay will be the name of the game for the Nittany Lions and if successful, I am not sure where Indiana will find points.
With the announcement this week that defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon will not play for Penn State this season there is some added pressure to control the run from PJ Mustipher and Derrick Tangelo. The D-Line is arguably the weakest part of this defense because of its lack of depth and there will need to be improvement there from the second and third teams to keep Penn State at its current pace.
Penn State is coming into this game as a 12.5-point favorite. That is hard to argue when you have seen how these two teams have played to this point and you factor in the night game atmosphere in Happy Valley. I expect Penn State to win and flip the 2020 script completely and start 5-0 instead of 0-5. Do that and there is a HUGE game coming up on the horizon. But we don’t talk about that yet.