The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
ND: With the bye week in the books, the Lions now look to open up conference play with Indiana. This is not your father's Hoosier's though given their high-octane passing attack that is currently ranked No. 8 nationally, averaging 348.5 yards per game.
MH: The Hoosiers are 2-2 this season. While they can roll up yards and put points on the board they are also featuring a defense that given up over 40 points in both of their losses to Navy and Missouri. Take the over in this one.
Who: Penn State at Indiana
When: Saturday, October 5 at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 pm PT
Where: Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN
Series: Penn State leads 16-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 3.5 points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: Ohio State got a bit of a scare as the Badgers started to mount a comeback last week. This week they get Pat Fitzgerald's No. 16 Northwestern squad on the road. Ohio State is No. 4 and facing a Wildcat team that is 4-0. The Cats feature the country's No. 18 running game and will have to have it firing on all cylinders to hang with the Buckeyes.
MH: I am intrigued by the Pac-12 clash between No. 15 Washington and No. 5 Stanford. Both teams are 4-0 and the Huskies have to head to Palo Alto for this one. Both teams have shown they can put up points, so this could be shootout and a huge deciding factor in how the Pac-12 West shakes out.
ND: West Virginia has been nothing short of bi-polar this season, getting hammered by Maryland 37-0 one week and beating No. 11 Oklahoma State the next. It largely depends which team decides to show up, but I can see the Mountaineers knocking off No. 17 Baylor. Sure, the lowest they've scored in three games this season is 69 points, but they have yet to play a team of significance. Either way I am expecting an entertaining battle in this one.
MH: A few weeks ago I picked Miami's upset of Florida, but this week I am turning it around. I think Georgia Tech has a solid shot at knocking off No. 14 Miami at home this week. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a tough 7-point loss to the Hokies and are anxious to stay in the ACC Coastal race.
ND: The Nittany Lions are coming off a big win over Eastern Michigan, but the loss to Central Florida still looms for the Blue and White. The offense put some heavy work in on route running and worked on some additional looks with the tight ends. Penn State should be able to move the ball against Indiana, but using a balance offense will be key to this. Although Zach Zwinak has carried the load in short-yardage and red-zone situations, the emergence of Akeel Lynch adds an intriguing dimension to the running game. Consider that Zwinak leads the team in rushing yardage with 297 yards on 67 carries. Lynch is second with only 34 fewer yards, but Lynch has also had 35 fewer carries. Granted Zwinak is used in dramatically different scenarios in many cases and has seven more touchdowns than Lynch, but Lynch's 8.2 YPC is impressive and could be a real factor for the PSU offense going forward. In terms of the passing game Christian Hackenberg has to continue spreading the ball around. As we get into Big Ten play, I expect Allen Robinson to get more attention. That doesn't mean his 17.2 YPC won't be a factor, but Hackenberg will have to run through his progression to "share" the ball more with his other targets. Brandon Felder and Jesse James have each shown they are capable of making plays.
Defensively, the Lions are facing a high-power offense that likes to air it out early and often. The Hoosiers rank No. 8 in passing yards, which will be another test for the Lions' secondary, much like Central Florida. Indiana has a variety of targets, which will require the defensive backs to keep sharp. In fact Indiana has five receivers who have pulled in one or more touchdown passes thus far this season. That's not to say the Hoosiers don't go to the ground as well. When they do they primarily look to Tevin Coleman, a 6-1, 205-pound sophomore back who has rushed for 286 yards on 56 carries. Coleman has also found the endzone six times this season, scoring in all four of the Hoosier's games.
MH: Penn State has a variety of weapons to use in this game both on the ground and in the air. I agree with you Nirav and believe Indiana will throw whatever they can at Hackenberg and the offensive line to disrupt the young quarterback. This is why he has to stay sharp, poised and use the talent around him to move the ball downfield. Getting the running game will be key to taking the pressure off the pocket, but watch for the Hoosiers to stuff the box to dial up the heat. This is where tight ends Jesse James and especially Kyle Carter become important to get quick, intermediate passes out in the flat. I am with you on Lynch and feel, if he's given the opportunity, he could really open things up early.
With the defense, the front four have to figure out how to disrupt the pocket. Getting to Nate Sudfeld is a tall order, considering his quick release and the fact he's only been sacked three times this season, but disrupting him and forcing some decisions is critical to crating opportunities for the defense. The play of the linebackers will be particularly important here, especially managing their releases to the secondary and maintaining their coverages. In this game, DaQuan Jones will be a big factor push through the interior of the line to draw in the wings to open up some space for the ends. That is a tall order, but one that he's been able to play before. The key is getting the defensive ends to hold up their end of the bargain and get to the backfield quickly.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: As you mentioned, Mark, Nate Sudfeld is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore quarterback. Sudfeld has a 65.3 percent completion rate and has tossed for 1146 yards and 11 touchdowns. However he has also thrown five interceptions, three of which were in his last game against Missouri. His completion rate has come down since the first two games, which topped 70 percent against Indiana State and Navy. Most recently against the Tigers he was at 53.8 percent. PSU will have to get pressure on him and force the issue with his decisions. He's only been sacked three times, but has shown some shaky decision-making when he's forced to move quickly. Sudfeld will look for Cody Latimer who has 19 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns and Shane Wynn who has grabbed 14 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns. The PSU secondary will have to play up and aggressive. Sudfeld is not a huge running threat, but the key is not giving him a lane. He has a net of 22 yards on the ground this season. What's vital is getting to him on rollouts and not allowing him to have a well-timed delivery to his outside targets.
MH: Sudfeld has some other targets around him in Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser who combine for over 360 yards and seven touchdowns. You can't ignore either of these guys, particularly on third downs. What should be concerning for the Penn State defense is the variety of targets the Hoosiers have in their passing attack. Indiana will get completed passes, so the PSU secondary have to snuff out the yards after catch to contain the gain. Defensively, their leading tackler is linebacker David Cooper with 33 grabs. Senior Greg Heban has 32 tackles, while linebacker T.J. Simmons and cornerback Tim Bennett, both with 28 takedowns. It doesn't necessarily bode well that a cornerback is among their leading tacklers though.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: The obvious choice here is Penn State's front four against Indiana's QB (Sudfeld). Getting a handle on the Hoosier air attack is critical to containing drives and creating opportunities.
MH: I am actually interested in seeing how Penn State's secondary matches up with Indiana's variety of targets. This will be an intriguing test for the Lions' defensive backfield.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: A critical key to this contest is getting pressure up front on the pocket to force decisions and create changes for the defense. You can't give this passing game time to develop, else you're looking at some big pickups along the way.
MH: I think a lot of this game comes down to time of possession and controlling the ball for Penn State. This means the PSU offense will have to put together pragmatic, methodical drives to control the clock and pace of the game.
ND: Indiana will be fielding one of their toughest teams in years, but with a questionable defense, PSU should pull it out if they stick to the fundamentals.
Penn State 34, Indiana 28
MH: Indiana wants the 16-0 stigma off their back and this is a huge opportunity for the Hoosiers to get a win. I think in the end the Lions pull it out late, but the Hoosiers give them fits along the way.
Penn State 32, Indiana 26
Until next time,
Fight On State!