Previewing The Enemy: Indiana Hoosiers
No. 8 Penn State football will finally begin its season at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday against Indiana.
After a successful 11-2 season capped off by a Cotton Bowl Classic victory last season, James Franklin’s squad has high expectations for this unprecedented conference-only slate. Indiana, on the other hand, didn’t find double-digit wins, but the Hoosiers managed to battle for their first AP Poll ranking since 1994 last season.
After a less-than-stellar 2018 season, Indiana managed an 8-5 record last fall that was capped off with a trip to the Gator Bowl. The Hoosiers even found a way to hang with the Nittany Lions, as a late touchdown helped Penn State squeeze by with a win.
Tom Allen helped Indiana improve a whole lot in his third full season as the Hoosiers’ head coach last year. The former defensive coordinator helped make his team a solid contender in the Big Ten and still has a strong crop of talent to work with.
The Hoosiers didn’t beat a ranked team in 2019, but they took care of the teams they were supposed to, including convincing wins over Eastern Illinois, Connecticut, and Northwestern, among others. Their regular season was capped off with a 44-41 win over in-state rival Purdue in a double-overtime thriller.
While Indiana hasn’t beaten the Nittany Lions since 2013, the Hoosiers put together a nice battle last season. Allen’s squad hung with Penn State’s offense by putting up 27 points, and a late scoring drive was the only thing that kept the Nittany Lions from being upset at home.
In addition to last year’s close call, Penn State has had its fair share of struggles on the road in Bloomington.
Indiana put up a solid 31.8 points per game last season, good enough for fifth in the Big Ten. Along with that, the Hoosiers put up a third-most 432.8 yards of total offense per game.
Most of the team’s offensive success was due to its impressive passing game, and that was put on the shoulders of Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix Jr in 2019. Ramsey transferred to Northwestern this offseason, but Penix is set to start as Indiana’s signal-caller in 2020.
Penix managed to beat out Ramsey, Indiana’s 2018 starter, for the QB1 spot last fall, but an injury kept him out to close out the season. Ramsey was a capable quarterback for the Hoosiers, but Penix also offers intimidating dual-threat capabilities. Before being kept out with the shoulder injury, he completed 110 passes worth 1,394 yards and 10 scores, along with 119 rushing yards.
As for who Penix will be trying to get the ball to on Saturday, the first name that comes to mind is Whop Philyor. The senior wide receiver led the Hoosiers in 2019 with 70 receptions for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns.
Philyor was named Indiana’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year for 2019 for good reason. Outside of his incredible ability as a receiver, the Hoosiers also utilized him in the run game and on special teams.
Indiana’s other intimidating offensive weapon is Stevie Scott III. The junior running back was named to both the Maxwell and Doak Walker Award watch lists during the offseason and quietly tore up the Big Ten in 2019. Scott led the Hoosiers with 178 rushes for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Penn State’s focus will likely be on those three talents this Saturday, but Indiana’s production can also come from tight end Peyton Hendershot and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle. Both are experienced pass-catchers who were solid for Tom Allen’s squad last fall.
Indiana’s defense was fairly mediocre in 2019. The Hoosiers allowed a generous 352.2 yards of offense per game last season, and allowed at least 20 points to conference opponents in all but two games. While the defense did pitch two shut outs in 2019, keep in mind those came against Rutgers and Eastern Illinois.
The Hoosiers lost talented linebacker Reakwon Jones to graduation this offseason but return leading tackler Micah McFadden. The linebacker was arguably Indiana’s best player on the defensive side of the ball last season and led the team with 60 tackles and even grabbed two interceptions.
Outside of McFadden anchoring the Hoosiers, the biggest strength of this unit will be the defensive line. The Nittany Lions’ hog mollies up front will be busy with guys like Jerome Johnson and Demarcus Elliot. The pair of defensive tackles combined for 8 sacks in 2019, while Johnson finished with 43 total tackles.
Indiana also added Stanford graduate transfer Jovan Swann to the defensive line this offseason, who earned 11.5 sacks as a defensive end in the PAC-12.
As for the secondary, the Hoosiers forced seven interceptions last season, and will ask for production from Tiawan Mullen. As a freshman in 2019, Mullen led the Big Ten with 13 pass breakups, and added two forced fumbles.
The Hoosiers had a bit of a tough year on special teams in 2019 and now have a new special teams coordinator in Kasey Teegardin. Charles Campbell will likely start at kicker for Indiana, as he converted on both of his field goal opportunities last season, including a double-overtime game-winner against Purdue. Haydon Whitehead is expected to start at punter after attempting 51 punts last fall.
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A 17-point third quarter powered Penn State to a 41-13 win over Northwestern.
Despite ultimately defeating the Wildcats in a blowout, the Nittany Lions were trapped in a shootout in the first half.
Penn State overcame a sluggish first half with 31 points and an interception in the second.