Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Take On Indiana
Penn State is back in town for the first time in what feels like ages and the Nittany Lions are looking to turn the ship around following a loss to Minnesota. Next up, No. 24 (in the AP Poll) Indiana sitting at 7-2 on the year with losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Hoosier have always been a feisty program and that won't likely change any time soon with a new found confidence and competence in 2019. This will be a good test for Penn State once again facing a team coming off a bye week.
The keys to this one are as much about the Nittany Lions' mindset as they are anything that actually happens on the field. 9-1 is very much on table, but so is 8-2.
Here's what to watch.
Generally speaking Penn State's issue in the red zone against Minnesota has not been a season-long problem. The Nittany Lions were 11th heading into that game in terms of the % of red zone trips that ended in a touchdown (70.27%) but left Minneapolis ranked 26th. It's hard to deny the struggles that Penn State had inside the 25 last Saturday, but at the same time you don't want to wave a massive red flag and assume that it's anything more than a bad week at the office. At least not yet. If Penn State can punch in its red zone chances on Saturday, that'll go a long way towards proving that Minnesota was a bump in an otherwise pretty smooth road.
Get After Him:
With Indiana down to just one of its two quarterback, Penn State will be well served to get back into the backfield against the less mobile of the two options. Minnesota once again was happy to get rid of the ball quickly and rendered Penn State's defensive front otherwise ineffective when it came to drive-changing sacks and tackles for a loss. The only problem, Indiana has only given up 13 sacks this season, one of the better marks in the country. With a less mobile Peyton Ramsey in the backfield this week, it remains to be seen if that number holds up. When in doubt get rid of the ball, and Indiana will likely look to do just that.
Losing has a way of making you question everything, and for as disappointing as fans, coaches and players might have been in a loss to Minnesota, it doesn't change the fact the Nittany Lions have done a lot of good things to get to 8-1. This key might be harder to see occur, but does Penn State get back to what it's good at and play the same style of play that has gotten them to this point? Does Sean Clifford throw with confidence and does Penn State's secondary get back to more solid and reliable play? Chances are the answer is yes, but seeing is believing.
In a similar sense, where is Penn State's swagger level? The Nittany Lions haven't lacked for confidence this season but do they still have that level coming off a loss? The best teams don't lose their edge even following a defeat, but there's no doubt that last minute losses take their toll. Coaches and players both say Penn State had a harder time flushing out losses in the past, can they do it against a quality Indiana team? The key to Saturday is as much mental as it is anything related to football, don't let Minnesota beat you twice.
Don't Walk It Back:
Penn State has picked up a boatload of return penalties that have hurt field position and taken two touchdowns off the field so far this season. In reality KJ Hamler has been more of a hypothetical threat in the return game than an actual walking statistic but it's hard to question his abilities in the open field. Can Penn State pull off a good return or two and not have them come back because of a mistake or mental error? It might not matter against Indiana, but special teams can turn games against Ohio State in either direction.