Indiana entered Saturday’s game against Penn State with the Big Ten’s top offense in terms of points (36) and total yards (498.2) per game. Both of those gaudy numbers took a hit as the hobbling Hoosiers sustained a 29-7 beat-down that was every bit as ugly as the final score indicated.
PSU (5-1, 2-0) outgained IU (4-2, 0-2) 420 yards to 234, had more passing and rushing yards, held a 22-14 advantage in first downs, and owned the time-of-possession battle by more than 10 minutes.
An injury to starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld forced Indiana to open with backup Zander Diamont under center. He was knocked out of action in the third quarter, and replaced by redshirt freshman Danny Cameron.
But aside from a Diamont-led 65-yard TD drive in the first quarter, neither passer had any answers for PSU’s big, athletic defense — even when the IU special teams and defense gave the QBs excellent field position.
Following Diamont’s 12-yard TD (which tied the game 7-7), the Hoosiers recovered an onside kick a yard shy of midfield. The PSU defense forced a three and out.
Seven plays later, Lion RB Mark Allen fumbled and IU recovered at its own 43. The Hoosiers managed one first down before punting again.
“It was awesome and it was significant in the game,” PSU coach James Franklin said of that stretch. “We spend a lot of time talking about and handling sudden change situations like that, and I thought our guys responded extremely well.”
PSU tallied a pair of second-quarter TDs and Indiana never did make it interesting in the second half. Here’s how we saw things playing out.
MAN OF THE HOUR: DT Austin Johson tied for the team lead with nine tackles, and added 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
CLOSE SECOND: QB Christian Hackenberg had his best game of the season, throwing for 262 yards and a pair of scores and rushing for two more TDs.
CLOSE THIRD: DE Carl Nassib had a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles.
TURNING POINT: The PSU defense coming up strong after the previously mentioned sudden-change situations was big.
SOLID STRATEGY: Penn State attacked IU’s suspect passing defense, which ranked 13th in the Big Ten going into this one. Hackenberg and his receivers were not perfect — they again left some plays out there — but they inflicted enough damage to blow it open in the second half.
NUMBERS GAME: Indiana averaged 3.5 yards per play, which was 2.4 below its season average.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: The PSU defense had seven more tackles for loss and four more sacks. IU came into the game ranked first in the Big Ten in sacks allowed (three).
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Danny Pasquariello stepped back in for the injured Chris Gulla (unspecified) and averaged 44.3 yards on seven punts. Better yet, the Hoosiers only had 23 return yards on five tries.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• The Big Toe struggling. Redshirt freshman kicker Joey Julius had a disaster of a day, putting a kickoff out of bounds (IU scored its only TD after getting the ball at the 35) and missing two extra points. He was pulled from placement duties in favor of Tyler Davis, who made a 30-yard field goal and an extra point.
• PSU not being ready for IU’s onside kick. The Nektons have to be smarter than that.
• Diamont high-stepping it into the end zone and then giving the crowd the “shhhhhh” sign. Why would anyone give this attacking defense more motivation?
• Allen fumbling again. He now has two fumbles, both of them lost, on only 34 touches this year.
• IU being flagged 15 yards for sideline interference while trailing 29-7 in the third quarter.
HIDDEN HERO: DT Anthony Zettel had no tackles in the game. However, he did bat two passes. The first was on an early third-and-4 and forced a punt. The second was on a fourth-and-3 late in the third quarter and gave possession to the Lions.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: OT Andrew Nelson was back in action for the first time since injuring a knee in the first half vs. Buffalo. He seemed a little rusty, but played every snap (at RT) until the final series of the game (when PSU’s second-teamers were in).
DID YOU NOTICE?
• Safety Marcus Allen (nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss) and linebacker Brandon Bell (three tackles) were both back after missing the Army game with injuries. DE Evan Schwan was back, too, and made one stop.
• TE Adam Breneman (knee) dressed for the first time this season but did not play.
• RBs Saquan Barkley and Akeel Lynch both remained out with injuries.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Considering No. 1 Ohio State struggled to beat Indiana (34-27) in Bloomington last week, does this mean the Lions have a shot against the Buckeyes in Columbus next week?