Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Indiana
Get ready for another football Saturday as the Nittany Lions (3-1) are set to take on the Indiana Hoosiers (2-2) in the Big Ten conference schedule opener in Bloomington. Penn State, coming off a big shutout win over Kent State and a bye week, will try and start off the conference slate with a win. Kickoff is at 12:05 p.m. Let’s take a look at what our writers think about the game:
Penn State 38, Indiana 35
This is going to be an interesting one. On one side, there’s Indiana’s fast-paced, high-octane offense led by sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The kid is a gunslinger and is just about guaranteed to do some damage tomorrow as he picks on Penn State’s weak secondary, a unit that has potential but is very young and very raw. The Hoosiers have a prolific wide receiver corps to compliment Sudfeld and a powerful lead running back in Tevin Coleman.
On the other side, there’s a Penn State offense led by Christian Hackenberg, one of the most promising quarterbacks in the Nittany Lions’ recent past. The team’s running back trio is pretty damn good too. Indiana might have a powerful offense, but it has an equally weak defense. The yards and points could come from anyone. Hackenberg could throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch could run for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Indiana might lead the Nittany Lions in just about every offensive category, but the numbers are slightly deceiving and inflated from games like the team’s season opener against Indiana State. The Hoosiers scored 73 points in that matchup. It will be a close game, but Penn State is favored and Penn State is the better team. If Hackenberg can keep the turnovers to a minimum and the defense can at least slightly contain the Hoosiers’ offense, this will be a Penn State win.
Penn State 45, Indiana 28
Indiana can score. There’s no doubt about that. The team is 8th in the country in passing yards and 11th in points per game, which is terrifying if you watched Penn State’s cornerbacks struggle against Central Florida. Blake Bortles shredded Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas, and although Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld isn’t nearly as good as Bortles, he can still sling it. Indiana’s offense will want to play as fast as possible, and I think the unit is going to rack up a ton of yards against Penn State.
However, on the other side of the ball, Indiana is a horrible defensive team. Only Eastern Michigan has allowed more points per game than Indiana among teams Penn State has played. If they aren’t able to get to the other team’s quarterback, and they certainly can as they’re second in the Big Ten in sacks, their defense gets shredded. The Hoosiers are second to last in the Big Ten in total defense and last in rushing defense. The team is fifth in passing defense, which is nice, but they’ve also played one team that likes to throw the ball — Missouri, which had two 100-yard receivers in the game.
I think Penn State takes advantage of this. Bill O’Brien has had two weeks to prepare for Indiana’s swiss cheese defense. Penn State’s three-headed monster at the running back position will pound it down Indiana’s throats, and when the running game is established, Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson will start connecting. Between that and the fact that Penn State is the best defense the Hoosiers have played this year, I think the Nittany Lions win comfortably.
Penn State 37, Indiana 31
Let’s be real here, Penn State isn’t going to lose to Indiana. They’ve never lost to them, and most likely never will. Coming off the bye week, I’m sure Coach O’Brien used the time to come up with packages and plays to take advantage of Indiana’s defense, and Penn State will end up with the win. This game will be closer than most will expect, however. Indiana is averaging 44.5 points per game. That should work out well for them against a secondary that struggled against UCF, the only other team that really knew how to throw the football.
Keep in mind that Christian Hackenberg is a freshman, so expect a turnover or two from him in his first true road game. But also remember that Penn State has more offensive weapons than the Hoosiers do. In the end, I think Zwinak, Robinson, and company will turn out to be too much for Indiana to handle, but don’t expect it to be a cakewalk.
Penn State 45, Indiana 28
Coming off a bye week, I would expect to see Penn State play with a lot of energy, especially in the team’s first conference game of the year. This offense should have very few problems with a team that is generally a Big Ten bottom feeder and will likely score at will. Indiana’s strong point is their pass offense which matches up well with Penn State’s not-so-great pass defense. However, that shouldn’t be enough to give Indiana the win. The Hoosiers haven’t beaten the Nittany Lions yet and I don’t see that changing on Saturday.
Penn State 38, Indiana 21
Indiana’s offense is one of its best in years, led by stellar sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosier’s quick-strike passing attack ranks eighth in the nation for total passing yards, while the offense has been lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 44.5 points per game, good enough to place 11th in the nation. However, its defense is suspect yet again, giving up 32.8 points and more than 460 yards per game.
The game will come down to the play of both young quarterbacks – Sudfeld and Christian Hackenberg. If Indiana’s offensive line can give Sudfeld some time to throw, he can pick apart Penn State’s young secondary. For Penn State to win their seventeenth straight over IU, the defense will have to generate pressure from the front seven and make tackles on the quick Indiana receivers in open space.
Meanwhile, Hackenberg must continue to take care of the football and look to be more efficient with his passes — AKA not forcing the ball to Robinson on every play. Receivers Brandon Felder and Geno Lewis will have to step up if Allen Robinson is blanketed by Indiana defenders.
Both teams are coming off a bye week, so I expect to see both offenses firing on all cylinders right from the opening kickoff. Penn State’s defense faces an up-tempo “NASCAR” offense every day in practice, so I don’t think Indiana’s offense will catch anyone by surprise — especially considering O’Brien and the coaching staff have had two weeks to prepare for the Hoosiers. After a few quick scores from Hackenberg and the offense, the three-headed monster of Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch will control the clock and rack up big yards against Indiana’s porous defense, forcing the hometown fans to head to the exits early.
Penn State 31, Indiana 24
If you’re expecting to see the usual Indiana team this Saturday, you should think again. The Hoosiers have a potential star in sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld and are ranked in the top 25 in nearly every offensive category (although putting up 75 points against lowly Indiana State didn’t hurt). Indeed, it’s hard to believe the 16-10 shitshow was only two years ago.
Penn State is favored by 3.5 points, which is probably the closest line they’ve had against Indiana in recent history. Expect Penn State to cover, but not by much. Indiana’s defense is still abysmal, giving up 32.8 points a game. Indiana’s loss to Navy on September 7 is hard to ignore, and the team did give up 35 points to the 1-3 Indiana State Sycamores.
It should be a fun day for Christian Hackenberg and co. If the defense plays like they have the first four games — which is, by most accounts, average — Penn State should walk out with a victory.