Bloomington Trek a Challenge for DBs

Penn State secondary intends to give it all it's got against Indiana's high-flying offense this weekend. Will the Lion defensive backs live long and prosper?

In the sport of college football, space may not be the final frontier. But it has become an ever more important one, as teams spread the field with high-powered passing games.

While trekking to Bloomington to face Indiana Saturday, Penn State (3-1) will attempt to boldly do what no defense has done before (or at least this season) -- control the Hoosiers' potent aerial attack. Behind quarterback Nate Sudfeld and a host of talented receivers, IU (2-2) leads the Big Ten in passing offense (348.5 yards per game) and total offense (547.2), and is No. 2 only to Ohio State in scoring offense (44.5 ppg).

“I just think we have to handle their tempo,” Nittany Lion sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “They're gonna try to get the ball to their playmakers out in space. We have to make tackles out in space. That's where the game's gonna be.”

“They like to play a space game,” added junior safety Adrian Amos. “They get the ball to the perimeter, and we just have to make open-field tackles and play good coverage on the back end.”

Something will have to give in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Penn State ranks third in the conference in pass defense (183.2 ypg) and second in scoring defense (14.5 ppg). But the Nittany Lion defenders weren't quite operating at warp speed in a 34-31 loss to UCF. In that game, Knight quarterback Blake Bortles connected on 20 of 27 passes for 228 yards and three TDs.

State's two first-year starting cornerbacks -- Lucas and converted receiver Trevor Williams -- both struggled in that game.

“Things happen,” Amos said. “The defense as a whole, we didn't play well. It wasn't just the secondary or corners or linebackers. We lost as a team.”

As for how the UCF game may have helped PSU prepare for Indiana, Amos said, “We're just looking at Indiana as Indiana. Central Florida is in the past. We're just looking at Indiana based on what they do.”

In some respects, it will be a bit like looking in the mirror. While Penn State does not operate at a fast tempo throughout the game the way the Hoosiers usually do, coach Bill O'Brien does implement a no-huddle “Nascar” attack when he wants to push the pace.

“Our offense, they have different speeds,” Lucas said. “It's Indiana week, so they've been giving us a lot of up-tempo stuff, Nascar, just to try to prepare us for what we're going to see Saturday.”

Lucas pointed to 5-foot-7, 170-pound dynamo Shane Wynn as a particularly dangerous weapon for IU. Wynn has 14 catches for 275 yards (19.6 ypc) and four scores, and is effective using his blockers to turn quick hitters into long gains.

“He's a short, shifty, fast guy,” Lucas said.

Otherwise, Lucas reported the Hoosier receivers are, “big, tall, very physical and can run. The quarterback's gonna get them the ball. So we just have to play good defense.”

Tackling, which was an issue vs. UCF but has otherwise been solid for Penn State this season, is also key.

“You have to make those tackles and get off the field,” Amos said.

In other words, when the Hoosiers make a catch, the Nittany Lions intend to cling on. Lucas is looking forward to this particular enterprise.

“Indiana is the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten,” Lucas said. “So that's going to raise a lot of eyebrows this week. We have to prove we can stop the pass and (that) when they get the ball out in space, we can shut them down.”

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