The Penn State Nittany Lions will travel to Memorial Stadium for the second straight season to face Big Ten East Division rival Indiana Hoosiers Saturday at noon. This will be the 18th meeting between the teams, with Penn State leading the all-time series 16-1. Last season, the Hoosiers picked up their first win of the series with a 44-24 victory over the Lions at home n Bloomington.
Here are ten burning questions by CampusSports writers Tajh Jenkins and Sammy Jacobs as the teams prepare to face off.
Jacobs: PSU is on a four-game losing streak. What is the feeling about the season?
Jenkins: Penn State actually egan its season on a four-game winning streak heading into its homecoming weekend matchup against Northwestern on Sept. 27. The Nittany Lions suffered an embarrassing 29-6 loss to the Wildcats in front of 102,910 fans at Beaver Stadium. Since then, they have lost to Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland. Although the Lions have lost four straight and currently stand at 4-4, they could easily have a better record, having lost some close games along the way. In its last three games, Penn State has either lost in overtime or by fewer than seven points. The Nittany Lions know that they have not helped themselves by losing games they could have won if it weren’t for their offensive struggles, turnovers and a few missed plays here and there. However, bowl game aspirations are still high in Happy Valley. Especially if the Lions can manage at least two wins in the remaining four games.
Jenkins: True freshman quarterback Zander Diamont has started the past two games due to the injuries of Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington. What do you make of his 5-of-8 passing for 24 yards total in last week’s game at Michigan? Can he somehow salvage the Hoosiers’ season or is all hope lost in regards to their quarterback situation?
Jacobs: I thought Diamont would make some sort of stride forward coming out of the open week and into Michigan. Boy was I wrong. The game seems too fast for him and he is just not physically ready to play at this level. You can’t blame him though; he was supposed to redshirt this year. From what I saw on the field last week, the season is lost at QB. Anytime your quarterback throws for just 35 yards in two games something is wrong and adjustments need to be made. Diamont has talent though, he won several awards in high school after throwing 47 touchdowns his senior season, but I’ll reiterate this, he does not look ready for the big stage just yet. Add in the fact that his back up Nate Boudreau was injured last week, it’s Zander’s show whether IU fans like it or not.
Jacobs: Why is Penn State’s offensive line so bad? Is it a product of a lack of depth and youth or are they just not as skilled as in the past?
Jenkins: To answer your first question, Penn State’s offensive line has gotten to be this bad over the course of time. A combination of NCAA sanctions leading to reduced scholarships, recruiting, injuries, player decisions and the fact that offensive lines are difficult to project in the first place, have all contributed. Heading into this weekend’s game, the offensive line will consist of five first-year starters – tackle Andrew Nelson, centers Wendy Laurent and Angelo Mangiro, and guards Brendan Mahon and Brian Gaia. Derek Dowrey is the only reliable backup and he plays at the guard spot. It doesn’t help that the team has played its last five quarters without starting left tackle Donovan Smith. Smith is the only scholarship tackle in the senior, junior, and sophomore classes. Senior guard Miles Dieffenbach has 23 career starts, but hasn’t started a game this year due to an ACL injury he sustained during spring practice. The Lions have four tackle prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, but none have garnered enough trust by head coach James Franklin and offensive line coach Herb Hand to play in any games.
Jenkns: How good is running back Tevin Coleman? Is he Heisman worthy? What do you expect from him as the Hoosiers enter their final four games of the season with a shaky quarterback situation and having to go up against two top-10 defenses (Penn State and Ohio State)?
Jacobs: Coleman is an elite running back and he has proved it against elite competition. He ran for 132 and 108 yards against Michigan State and Michigan with absolutely zero passing threat. He is physical enough to run between the tackles and possesses the speed to get the edge and out run the defense. He is Heisman worthy, but will be left out of the conversation because he plays at IU and he just doesn’t have the passing game around him to make things a little easier. I would hope that Coleman can finish the year strong and not just pack it in and head for the NFL Draft in the spring. He missed the last three games in 2013 due to an ankle injury, and that has to weigh a little bit on his mind. Penn State and Ohio State can stop the run without having to load the box and it would be quite the accomplishment if Coleman can break the century mark in those two games. However, coach Kevin Wilson has not handed him the ball more than 25 times in a game this year. It will be tough sledding for sure this week against a Nittany Lion squad giving up just 77.3 yards per game.
Jacobs: Is Penn State’s defense as good as people say? And is Mike Hull the most underrated player in the Big Ten?
Jenkins: Penn State’s defense has been as good as advertised. The Nittany Lions continue to lead the Big Ten Conference in both rushing and red zone defense, while ranking second in scoring, sacks and total defense. The Lions rank in the top 10 nationally in three of the five aforementioned categories. They rank No. 1 nationally in rushing defense (77.1 ypg), No. 9 in scoring (17.8 ppg) and No. 3 in total defense (273.4 ypg). The Nittany Lions also rank in the top 15 in sacks (3.13 spg). As much as it hurts Penn State’s fans to say, senior linebacker Mike Hull could be considered the most underrated player in the Big Ten. Hull is the undisputed leader and best player on a defense that is among the nation’s elite. He leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 7 in the nation with 11.5 tackles per game. This season, he has five 10-plus tackle games and needs just 15 more tackles to move into the top-10 in Penn State history. Concerns of Hull being underrated were raised after he was snubbed from the semifinalist for the Butkus Award. However, the senior was added to the watch list for the 20th Chuck Bednarik Award.
Jenkins: Penn State’s offensive line has underwhelmed for much of the season, how do you expect Indiana’s defense to attack Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions offense?
Jacobs: Hackenberg has been sacked 30 times in eight games this season. That’s a ton of hits to take. Also, the Nittany Lions have a terrible rushing attack, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. IU should have some success, but they should have had success in other games as well. The Hoosier defense is definitely improved, but pressuring the quarterback has not been a consistent threat all year. Indiana will try and bring pressure from the front three as well as from the “Bandit” position. In addition the Hoosiers like to bring an extra linebacker or safety, but those blitzes have rarely worked out well for the young defense.
Jacobs: What are the keys to victory for Penn State?
Jenkins: First and foremost, the Nittany Lions will need to put their No. 1 ranked rushing defense to good use in order to contain Hoosiers star running back Tevin Coleman. So far this season Coleman has been dominant, with 162 rushes for 1300 yards and 11 touchdowns on 8.0 yards per carry. The Hooisers’ offense begins and ends with Coleman. If Penn State can stop him then it will have a good chance at winning. Offensively, Christian Hackenberg needs to capitalize on opportunities to make plays down the field. Indiana’s passing defense is ranked No. 112 nationally (275.4 ypg). The Lions have one of the best freshman receivers in the nation in DaeSean Hamilton. Junior receiver Geno Lewis is also a reliable down-field threat.
Jenkins: In your opinion, what are Indiana’s keys to getting a win against Penn State on Saturday?
Jacobs: Is there is anyway to replace Nate Sudfeld’s arm with a robotic one so he can play? No, I did not think so either. If the Hoosiers want to get their fourth victory of the year and possibly bring some hope to a pretty beat down fan base the Hoosiers are going to have to open up the playbook. As good as Tevin Coleman is, he cannot win this game by himself running the “Wildcat”. Diamont needs to throw the ball better and loosen up the defense and create some holes for Coleman to run through. If Diamont can get even 100 yards through the air Indiana should be in good shape. The defense also needs to put pressure on Hackenberg and force him into some poor throws to create turnovers. The Hoosiers defense nearly had a couple of interceptions last week that would have changed their fortunes, but there is a reason IU is not know as a defensive power. A special teams touchdown would also do wonders for this team.
Predictions for the game?
Jenkins: Both of these teams have struggled mightily lately, especially Penn State given its talented roster. The Nittany Lions will continue to struggle offensively, but Hackenberg will be able to find some holes in the Hoosiers defense through the air. Even if Coleman gets his numbers, the Nittany Lions will hold their own against everyone else on Indiana’s offense and pressure Diamont throughout the game. Once again, the defense will carry the Nittany Lions to a win in Indiana’s projected rainy weather conditions. Penn State wins 20-7.
Jacobs: Indiana and Penn State come in riding three and four game losing streaks. Something will have to give and a winner will prevail. Unless Tevin Coleman has an absolute monster day and Zander Diamont can throw for 100 yards, it is going to be a long day for Hoosier fans in Bloomington. Penn State is not great, and with Nate Sudfeld IU would probably be my pick for the win, but I just do not see how IU scores more than 10 points on this defense. I’ll go with Penn State 24 Indiana 6 in an ugly wet game in Bloomington.
*Section Photo credit to Herald Times; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jasen Vinlove, USA Today Sports