For the second year in a row, Penn State has lost back-to-back games to Ohio State and Michigan State. In 2017, the sequence cost the Lions a shot at the College Football Playoff, but it didn’t snowball into a longer losing streak. In fact, James Franklin’s squad won every game for the rest of a campaign that ended in a Fiesta Bowl championship.
This season, many fans aren’t optimistic that there will be a similar rebound. Maybe it’s because both losses came at home in 2018, or maybe it’s because this year’s version of Michigan State looked very beatable, but it’s hard to find someone who thinks that the Lions will pick themselves up and roll into a New Year’s Six bowl again.
The anemic offensive performance and yet another fourth-quarter collapse have confidence in the program much lower than it was three weeks ago, but there’s still plenty of chances for wins over quality opponents on the horizon. Of course, that also means there’s chances for the Lions to play themselves out of a decent bowl game, but first the team has to take care of Indiana.
The Hoosiers went undefeated in the non-conference schedule, including a solid win over Virginia, but in Big Ten play they’ve been beaten soundly by Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa. Penn State fans know that Indiana can be a dangerous opponent on the road, but this year’s version doesn’t seem particularly frisky. Then again, neither did Michigan State.
For more on the Hoosiers, we checked in with Candystripes for Breakfast from SB Nation’s Big Ten blog, Off Tackle Empire. Thanks to Candystripes for helping us out with our game coverage!
Black Shoe Diaries: How do Hoosier fans feel about Peyton Ramsey these days? The quarterback completes a very high percentage of his throws, but he doesn’t push the ball downfield or give you much in the running game. Is he the guy to lead Indiana into the future, or will the program upgrade with a younger, higher-upside player?
Off Tackle Empire: So, the full explanation to this question starts with the play calling of offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. See, the DeBord offense has thus far shown out as a very dink and dunk passing game, and Ramsey hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to show whether or not he can make deep throws. Thus, high completion percentage, but low explosiveness. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if Ramsey was still as mobile as he was last year, but injuries seem to have robbed him of that extra gear that made him a dangerous complement to Richard Lagow. A not-small number of people have been calling for the program to not worry about burning Mike Penix’s redshirt, and making him the quarterback going forward (a spot he’s likely to earn next year anyway), so there’s definitely some discontent. As for me, I think Penix is about 10 pounds of muscle away from being the quarterback you really want him to be, and throwing him out there now needlessly risks injuries that might derail his momentum before it really gets started. So, long answer short: Ramsey is the guy, but he may not be the guy for long, and a lot of people want to know if the future guy is ready to be the guy now.
BSD: Stevie Scott started out this season looking like a workhorse back, but he has fewer carries than Ramsey in each of the last two games. Is this just because the Hoosiers have been playing from behind against Ohio State and Iowa, or is there something else going on?
OTE: There’s been no chatter that I’ve seen about any injury, and now that we are DEFINITELY NOT GETTING MORGAN ELLISON BACK EVER DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT JUST NO, the only reason I can think of to not run the ball with Stevie is that we don’t really play well from behind, and our offensive line just doesn’t seem to be opening holes against Big Ten squads like they were able to in the non-con. Stevie’s good, but he can only push the pile so far on his own.
BSD: Indiana has seven players with between 18 and 24 receptions for the season. Is there a go-to receiver for Ramsey, or will he continue to spread the ball around as evenly as he has? Is Luke Timian ready to take on a larger role after his return from injury?
OTE: Indiana doesn’t have a single go-to receiver, simply because most of them have taken a turn on the bench due to injuries. Some combination of Whop Philyor, Timian, and Nick Westbrook is basically receiver No. 1, with J-Shun Harris just slightly below those three. I’m actually more excited to hear that Philyor may be ready to go at full strength Saturday, as he’s been the closest thing we’ve had to a big-play receiver this year.
BSD: The Hoosiers don’t boast a particularly scary defense, but one thing they have been good at is taking the ball away. Not only have they intercepted eight passes, but they’ve forced eight fumbles, good for the top spot in the Big Ten. Has knocking the ball loose been an emphasis for Tom Allen this season? Is this something that’s sustainable?
OTE: Actually, yeah, emphasizing turnovers was Coach Allen’s primary focus for the defense coming into the year, so while their current pace is almost certainly unsustainable, it seems to be something they made a priority no matter who we’re playing. That said, it will probably take a margin north of +3 to actually make a difference against the Lions, but who knows?
BSD: Sophomore safety Marcelino Ball has one of those forced fumbles, and he’s also a team leader in tackles for loss (five) as well as sacks (two). How important is Ball to Indiana’s defense? Is he as good in coverage as he is in attacking the backfield?
OTE: Ball’s very good, but I think he’s still growing into his role a little bit. There are times where he gets a bit tied up in coverage, and I’m pretty sure he’s had at least one drive-extending pass interference called on him in the last couple of weeks. Jonathan Crawford is the real leader in the defensive backfield, and given that he’s the only senior in that group, it makes sense that he’s the one they all key on.
BSD: Indiana is two wins away from taking a third bowl trip in four years. Does reaching a bowl game still count as a significant accomplishment, or is the result of the game more important? Do the Hoosiers get it done this year?
OTE: If you give me 6-6 right now, I don’t care how we got there, I’m taking that 150 percent of the time. While we would love to actually win a bowl for the first time since the early 1990s, just getting there is still a big deal for a program that was still in single digits for bowl appearances until 2016. Winning would be fantastic, but you can’t win if you don’t play.
BSD: Indiana is a two-touchdown underdog this Saturday. How do you see the game going for the Hoosiers?
OTE: Poorly. We’re coming off a blowout loss on Homecoming, while you all are coming off an embarrassing loss against Sparty. If we lose by less than three touchdowns, it’s a moral victory.
Thanks again to Candystripes for Breakfast for taking the time to answer our questions. For more on Big Ten sports all season long, be sure to check out Off Tackle Empire!