Penn State Football: Five Keys To Beating Indiana
Penn State opens Big Ten play this weekend on the road against Indiana. The Hoosiers have a talented passing attack and can score at as fast as anyone in the nation. So while the Nittany Lions have never lost to Indiana, that won't make this weekend's game any easier. For Penn State to pull off the win on the road it'll take a full team effort, here are five things to consider for Saturday's game.
1. Hands Up
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld doesn't hang onto the ball for long. A three-step-drop gets the ball from Point A to Point B without much time in between. That means a pass rush is less effective when defensive players have a very short amount of time to get to Sudfeld. The solution? Hands up in the passing lanes. Many defensive players have said heading into this weekend's game that swatting down balls and getting hands up and in the vision of Sudfeld is key. Every pass might not be deflected, but it can make finding an open target a little harder and in turn give pass rushers a little more time.
2. Start Hot
Penn State may not have to score on the opening drive to win, but anything other than a 3-and-out could go a long way towards gaining some early momentum. The Nittany Lions have had hit-or-miss opening drives and getting Christian Hackenberg's confidence up early during his first road Big Ten game is key. Saturday's game will likely feature plenty of scoring, so staying out of an early hole will makes things much easier for Penn State as the game drags on.
3. Next Level
All around the Lasch Building are "Next Level" signs and slogans that remind players to take their game to that next level. For Penn State, that next level will never be more needed than on Saturday as a young secondary takes on a talented passing attack without rising Safety Ryan Keiser. Corners Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams will both need to be strong on the outside and Adrian Amos will need to help fill in where Keiser would have been. Amos is capable, but Lucas and Williams are still young and learning. If they made improvements over the bye week that will be a big help come Saturday.
4. Keep On Running
Penn State has had success with all three running backs this season and keeping that trend going in conference play will be important. O'Brien has said he won't burn clock to keep Indiana's offense off the field, but a grinding running attack established early could help open up easier passes for Hackenberg. If any of the three backs can break the 100-yard mark on Saturday it should be a sign that things are going well for the Nittany Lions.
5. Be Special
Close games often come down to one or two plays. In many cases these plays happen on special teams. While Sam Ficken has been perfect from the field this year minus an ambitious attempt from over 50-yards, a strong start in conference play will help his confidence. From a game standpoint those made kicks could be critical down the stretch, and solid punts by Alex Butterworth will be key to controlling the field position game. It'll be interesting to see if Geno Lewis is able to break off a nice return or two as well.