IU QB Kellen Lewis vs. PSU LBs Dan Connor and Sean Lee - There probably isn't a more productive tandem of linebackers in the Big Ten than Connor and Lee. Both rank in top five in the Big Ten in tackles, and they've combined for 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
While their productivity is obvious, their versatility is equally impressive. The duo has proven to be stout against the run (the Nittany Lions yield 81.4 yards/game), adept at blitzing and getting after the quarterback (Connor has five sacks, Lee three) as well as dropping back into coverage (Connor ranks second on the team with five passes broken up, while Lee has two). Whether the Hoosier quarterback is looking to run with it or throw it, he'll likely have to account for one or both of these linebackers on most plays.
"When you think of Penn State you think of great linebackers," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "They have great linebackers that are tough and hard-nosed and can blitz to pressure the quarterback and drop back and knock the ball loose 15 yards down field, so they are complete."
While Connor and Lee are a concern for Lewis, the Hoosiers' sophomore quarterback is an equally challenging assignment for the Lions. While they've gone up against an athletic quarterback in the past in Illinois' Juice Williams, Lewis is a much more dangerous threat throwing it than Williams is, and he'll be able to keep the Lion linebackers more honest than Williams could.
"Coach (Tom) Bradley (Penn State's defensive coordinator) was saying that he will be one of the most athletic players we will see all year," said Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant. "He's fast, he can throw the ball. They have some dynamic players on offense."
Whether it's Lewis for the Hoosiers or Connor and Lee for the Lions, all three are playmakers who could change the tide of the game on any given play. It will be up to each to do just that if their team hopes to emerge victorious – while keeping their counterpart from doing the same.
IU Defensive Line vs. PSU Offensive Line - Indiana's defensive front has earned plenty of attention thanks to its NCAA-best 32 sacks, but it didn't perform well enough a week to give IU a chance against Michigan State.
While IU still produced a reasonable three sacks of Spartan quarterback Brian Hoyer, it was its inability to hold up against the Michigan State offensive line and the run that proved to be the Hoosiers' biggest shortcoming. A Spartan offensive line that averaged better than 310 pounds consistently got a significant push against the Hoosiers' defensive front and that paved the way for a 203-yard day for Spartan tailback Javon Ringer and 368 rushing yards overall.
Penn State's offensive line isn't as big as Michigan State's – the Lions' front five average 6'3" and 294 pounds – and Coach Joe Paterno's team doesn't line up and try to play smash mouth football as much as Michigan State does, but the IU coaches know the Lions' coaching staff looks at film, and they will make the Hoosiers prove they can hold up against the run before they lean too much on senior quarterback Anthony Morelli.
Penn State's ground attack has also been getting better and better each week. In the last two weeks, the Nittany Lions have averaged 48.5 rushes/game and 238.5 yards/contest while rushing for a combined six touchdowns.
When this game is all said and done, it won't be the sacks that will be the most telling stat for the Hoosiers' defensive front, but the Nittany Lions' rushing totals. If Indiana is able to force the Lions to throw it as often as they run it, that's a good sign. But if Penn State is able have success offensively running the ball twice as many times as it throws it – which it's been close to doing in the last weeks – it's going to be a long afternoon for the Hoosiers.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
PENN STATE: Two Days and Counting
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