Hoosies look to turn the table on Penn State
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Indiana heard about The Streak all week.
Yes, the Hoosiers have lost all 16 times they’ve played Penn State, and yes, this might be their best chance to end it. That’s just not the focal point this weekend, winning is.
“Whether we’ve won in the past doesn’t matter,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “This team has not played this team, so we’ve talked a lot more about where we are.”
Saturday marks the end of a five-game opening home stand that was supposed to set up the Hoosiers (2-2) for a bowl trip, but things haven’t gone according to plan.
Defensively, the Hoosiers expected improvement. Instead, they are ranked among the nation’s worst in points allowed per game (32.8) and yards rushing per game (247.8), deficiencies that proved costly against Navy and Missouri – and could cost them again this weekend when the Nittany Lions (3-1) visit in the teams’ Big 10 opener.
The early losses mean Indiana must win four conference games for the first time since 2001 just to become bowl eligible. And the quest begins a foe that is still trying to prove itself, too.
Penn State rebounded from its first loss with a shutout against last season’s Mid-American Conference runner-up Kent State, then got a boost during last week’s bye when the NCAA reduced the scholarship penalties from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Like the Hoosiers, they’ve had two weeks to get ready for Big Ten play.
Don’t expect big changes, though. The Nittany Lions still rely on defense and still like to run the ball, two things that could extend Indiana’s winless streak in the series.
“I believe in certain things offensively. I believe in running the football, I believe in having diverse ways to run the football,” coach Bill O’Brien said, providing a potential blueprint for what the Nittany Lions may do this weekend. “I believe in throwing the ball accurately, I believe in smart players, tough players, I believe in team players.”
But the Hoosiers have other plans.
Here are five things to watch for Saturday.
CLOSER ENCOUNTERS: While the overall series has been lopsided, the recent games have been close – especially the last three at Bloomington. Penn State won those games by four, five and six points. Saturday’s game promises to be very different.
The highest combined scoring total in those three games was 67 points. If the Hoosiers push that number higher Saturday, like they often do, those frustratingly close calls just might turn into a historic win.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Wilson prefers keeping his quarterback choice under wraps, even from his players, almost until game time. That won’t change this week. And, for a change, this week’s choice isn’t so clear cut. Tre Roberson started the first two games before giving way to Nate Sudfeld, who responded with some impressive numbers. But against Missouri, Sudfeld started and when the offense bogged down, Wilson brought in Roberson. Who will Wilson pick this week? Stay tuned.
OPPOSITES ATTRACT: This will be a classic matchup in contrasting styles. While the Hoosiers have been searching for defensive answers all season, the Nittany Lions have been their traditionally stout selves. Penn State allows just 14.5 points per game, an advantage if it can slow down Indiana and turn the game into a slugfest. If it becomes a track meet on FieldTurf, the Hoosiers get the edge.
They’re averaging 44.5 points and nearly 550 yards in total offense. The Nittany Lions have only topped 40 points once this season, against Eastern Michigan, with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg leading the way.
MR. ROBINSON’S NEIGHBORHOOD: Indiana’s secondary has been solid this season. This week, it faces a big challenge against the Big Ten’s No. 2 receiver. Allen Robinson is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound play-maker who has 36 catches and 448 yards receiving. While Wilson worries about Robinson’s leaping ability, the bigger issue could be his size.
Indiana cornerback Michael Hunter is 6-1, but none of the other Indiana cornerbacks on the depth chart is taller than 6 feet. The good news is that Indiana’s Tim Bennett, who is 5-9, leads the nation in pass breakups (10).
NEW LOOK: The Hoosiers will have a distinctly different look this weekend as they break out pink for breast cancer awareness month. That’s not the only attire change they’ll make. The coaches also will be wearing Coach to Cure MD patches, a move designed to raise awareness for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.