Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's matchup against Indiana.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.
ND: It was a tough and controversial loss in Lincoln for the Lions but they return to Happy Valley for the final two games on the schedule. This week, they face the Hoosiers. And, if you are wondering what those marks are on the backs of the Hoosiers, those are tire tracks left by the Badgers that completely ran over Indiana last weekend. Indiana is now one of the worst teams in the country against the run but they are the best passing offense in the conference. This should be a game with plenty of offense so buckle up.
MH: I am sure the Nittany Lions are looking forward to getting back home after what amounted to a frustrating loss on many levels for PSU. As you pointed out this should be a big day for Zach Zwinak and the Penn State ground game.
Who: Indiana at Penn State
When: Saturday, November 17, 2012, 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania
Series: Penn State leads 15-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 18 ½ points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: This weekend is the final test for the Oregon Ducks as they face a very tough, physical Stanford team. Stanford brings the nation’s best defense in terms of sacks and TFLs to Autzen Stadium. Josh Hogan played great for the Cardinal last week and added an option look to their offense. I look for Stanford to slow up the Oregon run and Hogan to make some plays on offense. But, I like Marcus Mariota to make a couple of passes deep in front of the home crowd to help the Ducks pull it out late. But, I see this being a really close game.
MH: Keep and eye on the Big 12 as No. 23 Texas Tech heads on the road to face No. 24 Oklahoma State. Both teams have three losses and are looking to get a foot hole in the conference positioning. Texas Tech lost to West Virginia when they were ranked No. 5, but by the time Oklahoma State faced the Mountaineers they had spun out of control, so it’s not a good gauge of what we could see here.
ND: I’m going to take the Buckeyes in an upset over the Badgers. Though Ohio State is ranked higher, the wise guys in Vegas like the Badgers at home by two points. So, I’m using that to my advantage for this game. The Badgers have been running the ball extremely well recently and have been playing better defense. But, I fail to see how they can slow Braxton Miller and I think the Badger offensive line will struggle with Ohio State loading up the box doing everything they can to stop the run. In the end, the Buckeyes pull the upset and continue on to face Michigan in an effort to remain undefeated this season.
MH: Ha. That’s a strange underdog upset. I have one of my own though, I am looking out west and have a feeling that No. 17 UCLA can knock off No. 18 USC. Sure USC s ranked lower, but the Bruins have one of their last 13 meetings against the Trojans. That puts them as the underdog in my view. I have feeling that Jim Mora and company could get the monkey off their back. At least this is their best shot at doing so in quite awhile.
ND: This is the week for the Lions to completely exhaust every viable running option in the lineup. Zach Zwinack, Bill Belton and Michael Zordich should see plenty of action since the Hoosiers are one of the worst teams in the nation against the run.
The offensive line has seen a nice rotation and they were able to open some nice holes this past weekend. The other key will be coach Bill O’Brien sticking with the run. Despite the ability to move the football on the ground, seemingly at will, O’Brien has gone away from the run and turned to QB Matt McGloin to throw the ball. I look for the Lions to focus on the run and use the passing game only when the running game gets the Lions behind on down and distance. With the loss of Kyle Carter to a wrist injury, Matt McGloin will certainly use Jesse James and Allen Robinson even more. It’s amazing to believe that McGloin only needs two more passing TDs to become the all-time Penn State leader in TD passes. This is the game that he will at least tie the record.
Defensively, the Lions have shown a couple of key weaknesses – a running attack that utilizes the periphery and QBs that get rid of the football very quickly. Although, against Purdue, they were able to tighten this up quite a bit. But, they will face an Indiana passing attack that is tops in the conference. With Malcolm Willis seemingly out this week, there will be a considerable amount of pressure on the safeties to provide over-the-top coverage. I expect to see Adrian Amos, Stephon Morris and Da’Quan Davis playing very tight on the line of scrimmage. That will mean that Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Jacob Fagnano will have to watch for the double-move or someone running down the seam. The safeties are going to be huge in this game.
MH: I am all in on your suggestion that the PSU offensive staff have to run early and often on this Hoosier defense. Obviously Zwinak needs to see heavy dose carries, but also would like to see Zordich and particularly Belton see some significant plying time in this game.
I am not convinced though that Bill O’Brien will opt to go heavy on the run, after all that’s not what he’s known for, right? I would rely on the run early, see how they do and then work in the passing game. Again, the Lions have to pass and spread the ball around, which means we should see Matt Lehman and Jesse James get more balls in their direction, but Robinson and Moseby-Felder also have to be a major part of the passing plan.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions are facing a potent passing attack from the Hoosiers. Given the efficacy of the Indiana passing attack, the front four will have to get pressure on the pocket to disrupt the rhythm of the Hoosiers. That is easier said than done. I do think we’ll not only see Indy get aggressive with the deep routes, but also mix it up with the intermediate passes.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: The Hoosiers had control of their own destiny right up until they got completely steam rolled by Wisconsin. They still have a shot at making a bowl game and that is their primary focus now. The ground game for Indiana is pretty pedestrian with Stephen Houston leading the way. Though Houston is averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 9 TDs, he is a very good pass catcher. This will keep the Penn State linebackers on their toes. The real focus of the Indiana offense is in their passing attack. Cameron Coffman has been extremely accurate in this offense and is putting up some pretty big yards. The key for the Hoosier offense is getting rid of the football early and then looking for the double-moves to attack down the field. Shane Wynn is a really good receiver and is the leading receiver in all categories for this Hoosier team. But, don’t sleep on Ted Bolser. The 6-foot-6 redshirt junior has 35 receptions on the season for 377 yards and 2 TDs. Bolser is a tight end that Coach O’Brien would love to have in his stable.
The Hoosiers are giving up 244.0 yards per game on the ground. Despite having two excellent defensive tackles in Larry Black Jr. and Adam Repogle, the Hoosiers have been gashed. Black and Repogle are the two reasons that the Hoosiers are ranked near the top in TFLs and sacks but the rest of the Hoosiers have not helped much against the run. Greg Heban leads the squad in tackles from his safety spot and has 2 of the team’s total 5 INTs. He’s undersized but he runs very well and covers the field exceptionally. But, any time that you have a safety leading your team in tackles, you have to wonder what’s going on with the front seven.
MH: Although Indiana is known for their air attack, PSU cannot ignore the run game. Having said that there is little reason to believe they won’t come out with guns blazing, although I do expect they will try to work in the run to keep the PSU defense honest. As you said Nirav, this game will heavily rely on the smarts of the PSU safeties. Wynn can break out a route and get just enough space to grab a big pickup. I would also keep a close eye on sophomore WR Cody Latimer. He’s 6-3, 208 pounds and pretty aggressive. In fact he leads the squad with 707 receiving yards.
What’s baffling about Indiana is that their defensive front should not be where they are currently given their ability to get penetration and disrupt pockets. Their issues seem focused on the wings, which should help McGloin significantly. The Indy linebackers have struggled stepping up and also containing tight ends, which is likely something O’Brien and staff will look to exploit. However, the Lions cannot sleep on this defense and assume that putting things on cruise control will get them by in this game.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: QB Cameron Coffman is a very talented kid that, I think, gives Indiana the best shot to claw its way out of mediocrity in years to come. In this offense, he gets rid of the football quick and that’s going to cause the Lions all kinds of issues. I think the matchup to watch is going to be the IU QB against a shallow Penn State secondary.
MH: That’s a good call. I am going to say Matt McGloin against the entire Indiana defense. McGloin was out of sorts throughout spurts of the Nebraska game. He needs to get his head straight and not force things. Indiana will exploit whatever opportunity the PSU offense is willing to give to them.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: The Hoosiers are going to score some points on Penn State. The question is if Penn State can take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to the offense. That means converting on third down and scoring in the red zone. The Lions have to get momentum and score TDs since I foresee a shootout in the making.
MH: I think a lot of this game comes down to the play of the safety and the running backs for Penn State. If the safeties can play smart and trip up the offense of Indiana it could create opportunities. However, on the run game the coaches have to commit largely to it, which I am not sold they will do at this point.
ND: Over the years, the Hoosiers have put a serious fight to end the winning streak that Penn State and this is another one of those years. But, I like a couple of late defensive stops to help the Lions pull this one out.
Penn State 38, Indiana 31
MH: Indiana has some bright spots on this squad but I suspect not enough to get their first win over PSU.
Penn State 34, Indiana 27
Until next time,
Fight On State!