I must admit I was more concerned with getting my basketball previews together than I was with researching and previewing Indiana. But I have watched a few Hoosier games this year, and though there's temptation to write this game off, there is plenty to worry about.
Indiana's wide receivers Tandon Doss and Demarlo Belcher scare the crap out of me. They were absolute freaks against Iowa, and both guys rank in the top ten in the conference in receiving yards. They're tall, and I can already see them giving our corners and safeties a tough time.
I've also noticed the Hoosiers are a team that starts fast and jumps out to a quick lead. By contrast, Penn State is a team that starts slow and takes a quarter or two to really get going. So there's potential here for this one to look pretty scary in the early going.
But thankfully, they're Indiana, and eventually their Hoosierness catches up to them. This is a team that blew a late fourth quarter lead against Michigan. They blew a 25 point lead against Northwestern. And of course we're all familiar with how a 14 point lead against Iowa turned into an 18 point loss for them.
It's been a long time since we've seen Penn State have to fight back in a furious comeback effort. I'm going to say this is that week. Look for Indiana to strike quick and jump out to a 10 or 14 point lead as the Penn State offense bumbles and stumbles all over itself. About midway through the second quarter I'll predict Indiana gets a favorable call from the officials, and for a moment it will look like the entire season is lost. Say goodbye to the casual Penn State fan as they get up and start to leave the stadium. But the bad call will spark the Nittany Lions to life. The seniors will realize they don't want to go out like this. The defense will get angry. Daryll Clark and the offense will get focused. And we'll see a furious Penn State comeback in the second half to overcome a double digit deficit. I'll make a crazy prediction and say we'll be watching this game on the Big Ten Network as one of their Big Ten's Greatest Games series ten years from now.
Penn State 27, Indiana 24
What adjective do you assign a team who is 1-5 in the conference but was absolutely in every one of those games, other than a clinical beating by the likely conference champion? What's the backhanded compliment for this? Frisky?
Things that scare me about Indiana -- They protect their quarterback and Penn State's defensive ends were practically invisible last week against a suspect Ohio State offensive line. Ben Chappell is capable of occasional flashes of greatness. They're totally due for a big win. Penn State sleepwalked against them for 30 minutes last year after the Iowa game, and that was a Penn State team with a Rose Bowl bid still on the line. Tandon Doss.
Things that don't scare me no sir not a little bit -- Well, Indiana's defense really sucks. Super awesome kick returner Ray Fisher just had knee surgery. Their kicker appears to be the functional equivalent of Collin Wagner (okay from short range, nothing special). Lost by 40 points to Al Groh. Can't run the ball worth a damn. They're Indiana.
Vegas has this as a 25 point game. Twenty-five points! This one gets puckerish when Penn State and a dull crowd can't catch a fire early.
Penn State 34, Indiana 20
Against my better judgment I started defending the Vegas line for this game - it's hated by Indiana fans, Penn State fans, and just about everyone else who's watched football the season - but they don't exactly throw darts to come up with this stuff.
I was all ready to predict more of the same crap we saw in last year's Indiana game. A slow start after last week's loss seems likely, as does mediocre offense, and of course that "hey let's put 14 guys in the box against Penn State and see what happens" defense. Our response to that defense against inferior teams has usually been ignorance and 1.8 ypc in the first half.
But screw it. Penn State has a horrible line, and Ohio State and Iowa are probably the #1 and #2 worst teams to have to play against because of that. Indiana is not #3 on that list. They rank 9th in the league in sacks, dead last in passing percentage allowed (64.6) and 106th nationally in quarterback rating allowed (146.4!). Part of that might be on the secondary, but it starts up front.
People bring up Indiana's near misses against Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin, but Penn State is built a lot more like Ohio State and Iowa. When time expired, both of those teams had beaten Indiana badly. (Sure that Iowa game was insane, but the Hawkeyes outgained the Hoosiers by 180 yards and had 8 more first downs.)
Point is: we're set up to cover. So why not?
Penn State 45, Indiana 17