Perhaps the best thing for the Penn State (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) football team to do following a emotional and drama filled loss last week is to simply get back on the field.
They’ve done just that this week, holding some spirited practices in advance of their matchup with Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) Saturday at Beaver Stadium. All the talks of whether tight end Matt Lehman’s touchdown in the fourth quarter against Nebraska last week have faded, and the team is focusing on the task at hand: an improved Indiana Hoosiers football team.
Under second-year coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers, who won just one game last season, already have four wins this year. They’re led by sophomore QB Cameron Coffman, who leads an offense averaging just under 300 passing yards per game. Cameron has thrown for 1,932 yards and 12 TD’s this season while executing Wilson’s spread offense. Despite the offensive success, the Hoosiers haven’t been able to stop anyone, allowing more points per game (32.2) than they’re scoring (31.2).
Things won’t get much better for the maligned Indiana defense as Penn State comes into the game averaging 28 points per game while boasting a defense more than capable of shutting down an opponent. The Nittany Lion defense is allowing just 18 points per game this season and would be even lower if not for a blowout losses at the hands of Ohio State and Nebraska. Penn State’s defense is anchored by senior linebacker Michael Mauti, who leads the team in tackles. But the key members of the Penn State defense this week will be the secondary, more specifically safety Malcolm Willis and cornerback Stephon Morris. If Penn State wants to avoid the upset at home to a lesser opponent, the Nittany Lion secondary must cover well and often.
On offense, QB Matt McGloin and Co. shouldn’t have any problem moving the ball on the Hoosier defense, as everyone else has so far in 2012. Look for coach Bill O’Brien and the staff to get tailback Zach Zwinak and the running game going early against Indiana’s Big Ten-worst rushing defense that is giving up nearly 250 yards per game. If the running game goes nowhere, the Lions can attack the surprisingly steady Indiana pass defense, which has only given up around 200 yards per game this season. The reason behind the solid numbers on the pass defense is simply that teams are too busy running wild on the Hoosier defense to bother throwing the ball. Our guess is that Penn State will have success either way come Saturday.
Penn State will have history on its side when they try to continue their 15 game winning streak against Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers have never beaten the Nittany Lions despite coming close in recent years. Penn State outlasted Indiana 16-10 last season, and held off the upset minded Hoosiers in close game in both 2004 and 2007. Losing streaks like the one in the Penn State/Indiana series are ones that Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson is looking to end as he builds up the program in year two.
For coach Bill O’Brien and his Nittany Lions, a 16th-straight win over the Hoosiers on Saturday would give the Lions seven wins and a date with Wisconsin set for the final week of the regular season. By virtue of the NCAA sanctions placed on both Penn State and Ohio State, the Badgers have the Leaders division of the Big Ten wrapped up as well as a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game in December. For the Lions, that means that an eighth win could come in the final week with Wisconsin possibly resting players. Those eight wins are a far cry from the two, three or four that some pundits had the Lions pegged for following the heavy NCAA sanctions handed down this summer and the 0-2 start to the season.
Even still, the goal for O’Brien’s Lions is to win games, no matter how many they were supposed to, or not supposed to win. After a tough loss last week, it’s time for the Lions to get back on the winning train this week and finish the season strong, even though there isn’t any bowl game for this group.
Matchup to watch:
Penn State secondary vs. Indiana passing attack. The Hoosiers want to throw the ball early and often in their spread offense. Penn State wants to run the ball against the horrific Hoosier run defense and control the clock as well as the Indiana offense. Indiana’s only chance at pulling the road upset is to have a ton of success in the passing game against a secondary that can be had more so than the front seven. If QB Cameron Coffman has a career day, the Hoosiers will at least have a shot, which is all you can ask.
Players to watch:
Cameron Coffman, QB, Indiana. See above. If Coffman can shred the Penn State secondary and get some help from his porous defense, the Hoosiers might have a shot in this one. But again, Coffman needs to have the game of his life…and get some help for that to happen.
Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State. Indiana’s rush defense is one of the worst in the country. Penn State hasn’t exactly run the ball like it’s the ’80s, but look for a huge day from Zwinak running through big holes and into the secondary. Much like the Iowa game was a breakout performance from Bill Belton, this could be a “Wow” type of game from Zwinak on the stat sheet.
Prediction: Penn State 35 Indiana 17