Catching Penn State at the wrong time? - There's probably never a good time to face a team with a shutdown defense like the one Penn State boasts, but the Nittany Lions likely head to Bloomington with as much confidence as they've had all season.
After opening the conference slate with tough road losses at Michigan and Illinois, Coach Joe Paterno's team has rebounded by whipping Iowa and 15th-ranked Wisconsin by a combined 65-14 score. Last week's 38-7 thumping of Wisconsin was particularly impressive, as Penn State posted its most lopsided win over a ranked foe in five years.
"They played really well on both sides of the ball," said IU Coach Bill Lynch of Penn State's effort. "They moved the ball and scored and limited Wisconsin's opportunities so that is the kind of football team we have coming in here."
Indiana is also going up against Nittany Lion team that's desperate for a win. They likely still believe they have a chance to win at least a share of the Big Ten title, but they also know they'll have to run the table to get that done. That endeavor starts on Saturday against an IU team that the Lions are 10-0 against since entering the Big Ten.
Is the pressure of bowl eligibility weighing on the team? - Saturday's contest marks the Hoosiers' second opportunity to become bowl eligible this season. But dating back to last season, it will be IU's fifth chance to get that needed sixth win to get to the postseason.
So far, the Hoosiers are 0-4 with a bowl bid likely on the line. As was the case this season, IU's first opportunity to become bowl eligible a year ago came against a beatable foe (Minnesota) on the road, and the end result was downright ugly. As bad as IU's 52-27 loss to Michigan State was on Saturday, it still pales in comparison to the 63-26 drubbing to Minnesota a year ago, a contest that saw IU fall behind 35-0 early in the second quarter.
"That six wins that is out there is important, and we have to have a maturity on our football team to take care of business," said Lynch. "Like I said in the first press conference, if we take care of the little things, the big picture will take care of itself. That is going to be our approach this week."
Hoosier quarterback Kellen Lewis also said the sixth win isn't weighing on their minds because they don't plan on stopping at six.
"I wouldn't say (we're pressing)," Lewis said. "(It's) much anticipated, yes. Maybe that is making us play a little bit tighter, a little bit more nervous, I don't know, but you've just got to take it week by week…Obviously we know we can win games."
Lewis and the Hoosiers know that, but they also know they're clearing a big hurdle when they get that sixth victory. They were 0-3 in that endeavor a year ago, losing to Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue by an average of 25.7 points. Their first shot at it this season resulted in a 25-point loss to the Spartans, and they'll try their luck again this weekend.
Will Indiana be able to stop the run - It might be Football 101, but if Indiana can't slow down Penn State on the ground, it's not going to emerge victorious on Saturday. Penn State doesn't boast an explosive tailback like Javon Ringer or Rashard Mendenhall, and it ranks in the middle of the Big Ten pack in rushing with 185.4 yards/game. But it still has capable runners, a solid offensive line, and plenty of film from the Illinois and Michigan State games to utilize.
"We have to defend the run well, there is no question," said Lynch. "(Michigan State) just dominated the game last week. By not slowing the running game down, we never got the ball back."
While Penn State has traditionally been a good running team, Lynch said it's a different style of attack than the one IU faced a week ago. While the Spartans utilize a fullback and multiple tight ends, Penn State spreads things out a little bit more, doesn't use a fullback as often, and could be a better match-up for IU than MSU.
But Lynch also knows that the tape could dictate that Penn State do things a little bit differently than it normally would.
"(Penn State) can certainly line up in two-back and pound away at you," Lynch said. "They may look at the tape and see that's what Michigan State did so that's what they are going to do."
No matter how the Lions go about trying to amass yards on the ground, IU has to do a better job of limiting its effectiveness. That's not to say Penn State can't have some degree of success, but IU has to do a better job of forcing Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli to throw it as well.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
PENN STATE: Three Days and Counting
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