Preview: Indiana Hoosiers (4-6) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-4)

Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State looks to finish strong in Bill O'Brien's freshman campaign, but Indiana's playing for the opportunity to go to its first bowl game in approximately forever. Will the Hoosiers keep it close?

Indiana Hoosiers (4-6) vs. Penn St. Nittany Lions (6-4)

Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. Beaver Stadium (Capacity: 107,282), University Park, PA.
The Line: PSU -17.5
TV: BTN -- Kevin Kugler (play by play), Chris Martin (analyst)
Weather: Sunny, high of 49.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:
PENN STATE RECORD: 6-4, 1st year
OVERALL RECORD: Same
VS. INDIANA: First Meeting

Kevin Wilson:
INDIANA RECORD:
5-17, 2nd year
OVERALL RECORD: Same
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

Indiana Offense vs PSU Defense -

Indiana comes in at 4-6 (and just having lost what was, in effect, a Big Ten Championship Game play-in to Wisconsin), but had the Hoosiers just got a few breaks one way or the other, they could easily already punched their bowl ticket already. Two of the losses, to Ball State and Navy, came in the final minutes (Ball State kicked a field goal as time expired to win by two), and, until last week's debacle against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers had been either ahead within one score in the final minutes of every single game this season.

And it's been a potent offense that's the reason Indiana's been able to hang in there against better, more talented, teams; the Hoosiers have the worst defense in the Big Ten (by almost 40 yards per game), but the #3 offense, behind just Nebraska and Ohio State. And it's kind of like Oregon-meets-Purdue, a short-field spread passing game that operates at a breakneck speed, and keeps defenses honest with the occasional deep ball and competent, if sparingly used, run game.

Indiana boasts the top passing offense in the Big Ten--despite having to play three quarterbacks this season due to injuries--throwing for nearly 300 yards per game. Cameron Coffman has been the starter when healthy, and will be under center tomorrow, but he's coming off of his worst game of the season. Coffman completed just 25 of 46 passes for 223 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Badgers' rout of Indiana a week ago. The previous game, though, in Indiana's shocker over Iowa, he was just short of perfect: 21 of 33, 315 yards, 3 TDs and nary an interception. Penn State knows it can defend the short passing game--Purdue couldn't get much going in its screen game--but defending Coffman will be a far tougher test than Robert Marve proved to be.

Four Hoosier receivers are catching more than three balls a game--leading receiver Shane Wynn, with 51 catches, is more of a possession guy, with just 463 yards. The deep threat is Cody Latimer, who's averaging over 16 yards per on his 44 receptions, and caught all three of Coffman's TD passes against Iowa. Coffman also gets his backs and tight ends involved in the passing game: TE Ted Bolder has 35 catches, and RB Stephen Houston's hauled in 23 passes. Houston, by the way, has 9 rushing touchdowns and a solid 4.5 yards per carry--Indiana doesn't run much, but has been fairly effective when they have (well, except last week, when Wisconsin bottled him up to the tune of 10 yards on 6 carries).

It would be very unsurprising, for an already razor-thin Penn State secondary now playing without Malcolm Willis, to have a great deal of difficulty defending the Hoosiers spread offense, and because of how fast-paced the tempo Indiana loves to run is, there almost certainly will be a couple drives where Penn State just can't get off the field. Indiana QBs have only been sacked 11 times this season (second best in the conference), so the Lions' burgeoning strength will likely be effectively neutralized

Schematic advantage: Indiana.

PSU Offense vs Indiana Defense -

There is, of course, some good news. For as good as Indiana's offense is (and it's very good), it's defense is somehow far worse. The Hoosiers rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense, rush defense, and are second to last in passing efficiency defense, ahead of only our good friends from Illinois. They've allowed fewer than 31 points just twice since September 15th (in two wins over the immeasurably bad Illinois and Iowa offenses), and last week, Wisconsin just went HAM for 564 rushing yards. The Badgers put up 62 points and only threw 7 passes. Not being able to stop Wisconsin's rush attack isn't that stinging of an indictment, but not being able to stop much of anything else is. And did I mention that the Hoosiers' ten takeaways are the worst in the Big Ten?

That's not to say there aren't a few playmakers on the Indiana D. Notably, the Hoosiers are stout in the trenches, especially in its excellent pair of defensive tackles. Adam Replogle will almost certainly be playing on Sundays--it doesn't speak well on the rest of the defense that Indiana's third leading tackler is its defensive tackle, but he's a disruptive player. Replogle's 9 TFL and 4 sacks from inside are about as many as Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones have, put together. The other DT, Larry Black? Yeah, he's also got 9 TFL and 4 sacks. The pass rush is the only halfway competent part of this Hoosier D--with 24 this season, they're third in the conference, right behind Penn State.

But there's something to be said for an offense that loves to get into shootouts and a defense not built to win any. Allen Robinson should feast against Indiana's secondary, and the loss of Kyle Carter--out for the remainder of the season with a hand injury--won't hut Penn State this week. And considering what a bulldozer Zach Zwinak's been, against stout defenses like Nebraska, it's hard to imagine Indiana holding him in check. It would be really fun if this turned into Indiana's quick-speed passing game vs. Penn State's NASCAR power running--I can envision quarters at a time where neither defense gets off the field.

Schematic advantage: Penn State

Special Teams -

Penn State is steadily improving in this category, led by the incredible resurgence of Sam Ficken. Let's give the kid a ton of credit, we all ripped him after that Virginia game, and it sure would've been easy for him to disappear and let the struggles get to his head, but instead he's turned it around, and become pretty steady on the shorter kicks. Now it's time for BOB to open it up and let him kick a long one.

All that said, Indiana's got the slightly better unit, here: the Hoosier's Mitch Ewald, at 12/16, is among the better kickers in the Big Ten, and Indiana ranks second in the conference in kick return average. The flipside, though, is that punter Erich Toth has been just as ineffective as Penn State's Alex Butterworth, and the Indiana punt return is no better than the Lions' (though the Hoosiers have only returned 12 punts all season!).

Schematic advantage: Indiana

Prediction -

Penn State won't lose this game--the one constant, since the Ohio and Virginia games that we can easily pretend never happened, is that Bill O'Brien's crew has beaten the teams worse than it and won the games it's supposed to win, and with relative ease. The only question is whether Indiana makes it a game, like they did against Ohio State, a 3-point loss that, admittedly, was never as close as the final score indicates.

That'll likely come down to Penn State's old nemesis: the third quarter. Ted Roof has had great gameplans in every single first half this season, and the Lions will almost certainly get off to another early lead. Force even a couple punts in the opening quarter, and McGloin will have copious opportunities to convert. Indiana's resilient, though--they fought back from 20-point halftime deficit to close within a touchdown of Northwestern, and have showed way more heart than we've come to expect from the perennial bottom dwellers.

The fact is, though, heart isn't enough, not against an angry Penn State that's likely still stewing over last week's screwjob. This week, it won't come down to a heinous call, and all we'll be talking about Sunday is Zach Zwinak's incredible emergence.

Penn State 45 - Indiana 27


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