Penn State’s Passing Attack Can Realign Against IU

If Penn State plans to walk out of Bloomington with a win against Indiana Saturday afternoon, it should seriously consider doing everything it can to get its passing game going.

It’s no secret that the Indiana Hoosiers have one of the worst passing defenses in college football, ranking last in the Big Ten and 111th in the nation. The Hoosiers allow an average of 274.8 passing yards per game.

Sure, the Hoosiers struggle to defend the pass, but so did a few other Penn State opponents this season such as Maryland and Northwestern. Maryland ranks 12th in the Big Ten in passing defense, while Northwestern is 10th. Still, the Nittany Lions failed to throw for more than their season average against both teams, which is 261.9 yards per game. That’s good for second in the Big Ten, but just 42nd in the nation.

With the Nittany Lions run game virtually non-existent this season, head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan have relied heavily on the pass. They’ve thrown the ball 331 times this season, more than any other team. However, Penn State’s recent four-game losing streak has exposed the Nittany Lions for their inconsistent passing game. Since its last win on Sept. 20 against Massachusetts, Penn State’s air attack has averaged just 194 yards per game. The Lions have not come close to their season average during their losing streak, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg has failed to throw for more than 300 yards in a single game since a Sept. 13 victory over Rutgers.

Against Indiana, Penn State has a great opportunity to not only surpass its season average, but also get its first 300-yard passing game since week three. But one challenge that they face against the Hoosiers is the 3-4 defense, which is something that the Nittany Lions’ last four opponents have presented. In the 3-4, teams usually drop eight men into coverage, having an extra defender whether it’s deep in coverage or underneath.

Although passing has been a problem, it’s the entire offense as a whole that has anemic to say the least. The Lions have had offensive line protection and receiver separation issues. In addition, Hackenberg has either held onto the ball too long, missed, or underthrown open receivers. These have been consistent problems that have stopped Penn State from making big plays.

Since the start of the losing streak, Penn State’s offense has not produced a play longer than 33 yards from one of its receivers. This has been rather frustrated for an offense that features a talented duo at receiver in DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis.

Franklin and his staff, including Donovan and receivers coach Josh Gattis have to be more creative if they want the offense to stop being stagnant. Maybe all it will have to take is getting players to be on the same page.

“Most of our plays that maybe didn’t have success, there’s probably about nine guys on the same page and two guys not on the same page,” Gattis said.

In order for Penn State to have the success it experienced early in the season, making sure that the players are one cohesive unit in the final four games, perhaps five, will help not only the passing game take off, but the offense as a whole.

*Section Photo credit to Nittany Nation; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matthew O’Brien, USA Today Sports

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