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Penn State Football: Five Things to Watch as Nittany Lions Head to Indiana

by on October 23, 2020 12:36 PM

It’s finally here. The Nittany Lions are headed to Bloomington for the first game of the year after what has felt like a lifetime of waiting and hoping. A Big Ten-only schedule will make for a season not quite like any other during a year not quite like any other. No fans adds another layer to every game and nothing about playing within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium will bring the same security that 110,000 blue and white wearing faithfuls would have.

But first things first: Penn State has to get past an Indiana team that has given the Nittany Lions all kinds of trouble over the years.

2020 has been a year to assume that you can’t assume anything, but football is still football, and the keys to winning haven’t changed even if everything else is different. So here are five things to keep an eye on as the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers begin their long-awaited seasons at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

1. Rhythm and Flow

It seems somewhat self-explanatory, but Penn State’s ability to get out of the gates and maintain flow on both sides of the ball will be key to coming out on the right side of a tricky Week 1 meeting. The Nittany Lions don’t have to look like they have all the answers, but execution will be key against an opponent that won’t be the usual opening game pushover. The good news, of course, is that for the most part Penn State is bringing back the majority of its key pieces, so picking up where they left off isn't out of the question. A new offensive coordinator is an added wrinkle, but this is where scheme continuity comes into play. All told, Sean Clifford and his supporting cast ought to be prepared, but as so often has been the case over the past few seasons, it’s not so much the opening punch that matters as it is the ability to hand out the finishing blow. That comes down to consistency, and an ability to execute for all four quarters.

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2. New Guys

Receiver Parker Washington and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. are the marquee new faces to watch, but don’t be surprised if a few others make their debut at some point on Saturday. One game, especially a first game, isn’t enough to judge anyone for anything, but looking good is looking good and Penn State fans will be plenty pleased if the new guys look the part. Washington will probably be the most obvious addition given Penn State’s need for consistent receivers, but good coverage by Porter shouldn’t go unnoticed. Penn State didn’t get to showcase anyone in the Blue White game this year, so no time like the present for an introduction. 

3. Close It Out

Indiana has played Penn State close for the better part of the past decade in Bloomington. Most people don’t remember that the Hoosiers had the lead in the fourth quarter in 2017, let alone that nearly every game at Indiana has been decided by less than a touchdown. If you were going to knock Penn State for anything over the James Franklin era, at least the past four seasons or so, the ability to close out the close game might be where your critical eye would start.

Of course the Nittany Lions have won their fair share of close games, but those Ohio State losses in the final quarter will always loom large. Saturday is almost certainly going to be a close contest, and on paper Penn State is the better team. Can the Nittany Lions make good on that fact and close things out? That could mean scoring again, or getting a stop. In either case, pulling off a close win would go along way for this team in more ways than one — assuming that it is close in the first place.

4. Do It All

Jordan Stout is slated to punt, kick and hold this season, it’s not rocket science but it does go against James Franklin’s long held desire to have more than one specialist handling most of the duties. Given the delegation of duties, it’s entirely possible Stout has to handle his fair share of kickoffs, a long field goal and hold for Jake Pinegar. Stout has shown plenty of leg during his 12 months on campus and certainly seems capable of doing all of his duties but it’s still a unique wrinkle. Bad special teams are somewhat obvious, but one guy doing it all well isn’t something to overlook in the long run. Especially as the season rolls along.

5. Bring The Juice

Indiana has never been a place, generally, where crowds are a huge factor. It seems likely that given Penn State’s ranking and the status as the opening game of the season that there would have been a good crowd on Saturday though. In either case, the ability for teams to bring and generate their own energy, both on the road and at home, will likely be key to surviving the ups and downs of a game. It’s hard not to look ahead to Penn State’s meeting against Ohio State and wonder what will happen in a White Out without fans. Can the Nittany Lions bring their own energy to Bloomington? That’s a challenge on the road, let alone in an empty stadium. How Penn State navigates that aspect will go a long way toward winning this season both this week and down the road.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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