Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
ND: For the second year in a row, Penn State plays Indiana after a crushing loss. Last year, it was after the Iowa game, this year, after the loss to Ohio State. Some of the concerns from that Ohio State game now carry over to the Indiana game. The Lions will be celebrating Senior Day as guys like Sean Lee, Daryll Clark, Jerome Hayes, Jared Odrick and many others leave. I also gotta give Andrew Pitz, the long-snapper a shout out. The kid doesn't get near the publicity as he should. He's been one of the real bright spots on special teams this year.
MH: The Lions are coming off a heart-breaking loss that really changed the perspective of the 2009 season among many PSU fans. The Lions have to bounce back strong and avoid an implosion ala 1999. Saturday is Senior Day and this group of veterans deserves to be sent off with a victory. They're facing an Indiana team who has never beaten Penn State; however this edition of the Hoosier is a feisty bunch that has given fits to teams across the conference.
Who: Indiana at No. 18 Penn State
When: November 14, 2009 at 12:00pm ET and 9:00am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 12-0
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 22 points
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: I'm dubbing this Saturday, Hot Seat Saturday. There are three coaches of interest that are all firmly planted in the Hot Seat and all of them are in trouble of losing this weekend. Navy hadn't beaten Notre Dame in 43 years. Now, they have beaten Charlie Weis' Irish squad 2 of the last 3 years. If Notre Dame loses to Pitt this weekend, Weis' winning percentage will be the exact same as Ty Willingham when Ty was sent packing. Weis needs a win. His team has only beaten two teams in the Sagarin Top 30 in his tenure – Michigan in 2005 and, gulp, Penn State in 2007.
Meanwhile, just up the road in Ann Arbor, Rich Rodriguez is feeling the heat. The Wolverines are on the verge of not being bowl eligible again this year if they lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Coach Rodriguez has a total of eight wins in almost two full years in the Maize and Blue. And those wins are not that impressive – Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Miami make up 4 of those wins and his in-conference wins are over Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Rodriguez needs a win over Wisconsin or a huge upset over Ohio State to keep the boosters and the alumni off his back all spring and summer.
And, don't look now, but things continue to get worse for Papa Bowden. FSU must win 2 of the last 3 games to be bowl eligible. And, the last game is at Florida. So, really, FSU has to beat Wake Forest and Maryland to get into a bowl. Wake Forest has only 4 wins this season but they lost in OT to Georgia Tech last week and lost by 3 to Miami the week before. The Deacons are going to make Bowden fight for this win. Either way, things are not looking so good for Bowden in Tallahassee.
MH: I like your marketing spin – ESPN should put you on the payroll. There are a few other big games on the slate this weekend. Iowa heads to Ohio State to basically face off for the Big Ten title. And without a healthy Ricky Stanzi the Hawkeyes look to be in trouble. Also, No. 4 TCU hosts essentially their final test of the season. If they pass it they could really be a BCS buster this year.
ND: I'm not sure that the Florida/South Carolina game is going to result in an upset. But, I don't think Florida is going to beat South Carolina in Columbia by the 15 points that Las Vegas does. Spurrier's team has been playing very well defensively all year and I don't think that's going to change on Saturday. I doubt the Gamecocks will score much on Florida, which is why I think the Gators get the win. But, this Gator offense is a shell of what they were last year. They lack the playmakers, namely Percy Harvin, to put up big points quickly.
MH: I may be alone on this but I think if Jimmy Clausen can play adequately that they will knock off No. 12 Pitt. ND's defense is lackluster, but I am not sold that the Big East has given Pitt any legitimate tests so far, considering they have yet to play Cincinnati or West Virginia.
ND: The Lions clearly struggled against a quality defensive line last week. Though the Hoosiers don't boast a high-power defense, they do have a couple of strong defensive lineman that can create some trouble for the Lions. With Troutman out this week, we'll see if the offensive line can create holes for Royster and provide some protection for Clark. Greg Middleton is one of the best defensive lineman in the conference that doesn't get all of the hype that deserves. He's a prototypical defensive end in that he's 6'3" and 284lbs. He has 7.5 TFLs and 3 sacks. The other guy that I think has been very impressive is Larry Black. Black is redshirt freshman defensive tackle that has 7.5 TFLs as well. At 306lbs, he's a run stuffer that is only going to get better. We'll see if Stankiewitch can push him around. The play of Suhey could be really big in the running game to help Royster get some solid holes.
The complete mystery to me is the disappearing act of Derek Moye. The Buckeyes played tight coverage at the line of scrimmage but the Penn State coaches should have been able to get Moye into a situation where he could get open. Unfortunately, when that did happen, Clark didn't have time. The Penn State receivers need to get back on-track and they should be able to do that against the Hoosier defensive backs. Indiana does have a good defensive line but that's about all that they have of any real note on defense. The secondary has been torched all year long and I expect Clark, Zug, Moye and Powell to do the same. Look for the Lions to use a number of routes that give Clark a short and a deep option to see what the safeties try to stop.
The Hoosier defense just isn't that strong. They have a couple of stars on the defensive line but I expect to see the Lions get back to a balanced attack with Royster running strong and Clark keeping the chains moving through the air. I expect the Lions to have some glitches early, which will lead to some punts but then the rhythm will come right back.
MH: The frustration with the Penn State offense started with the offensive line which was porous at best and simply could not handle the power rush from the Buckeyes. The fact that Troutman is out poses some concerns for PSU. As you said, the Indiana defensive line is not as powerful top-to-bottom as OSU, but can get a rush on and put ripples in the pocket.
Clark has got to shake off the cobwebs from last weekend and sharpen up his reads and deliveries. The evaporation of Moye may have been the most frustrating. However, while most teams early on stuffed the box and attacked the pass, Ohio State had their players playing up tight and pounced on the receivers. First, the coaches should not have been unprepared for this, but they seemingly were. Plus, the size of the receivers could have been leveraged to open up some passing lanes, but were all but abandoned for whatever reason. Against Indiana the wideouts should have a field day and really have some big play opportunities.
The largest frustration for me against OSU was the downright inept play-calling. A QB-keeper on third and five against that Buckeye defensive line - seriously? Lucky for PSU the Hoosiers don't have a defense up to par with what they saw with OSU, but that doesn't mean the Lions are going to tip-toe through this game. Penn State better balance it out and get aggressive again. There'll be no excuse for them not to pour on the offense in this one
ND: Defensively, the Lions will face a quirky offense that works on matchups and misdirection. The Hoosiers like to run the option and even a triple option look. Ben Chappell has been quite accurate completing 63% of his passes and he's thrown 13 TDs. The problem has been that he's thrown 12 INTs as well. Chappell has a fantastic young receiver in Tandon Doss. The 6'3" sophomore is averaging 84.3 yards per game and 13 yards per catch. This guy can play. But, they have another tall receiver in Damarlo Belcher. Belcher is a 6'5" sophomore and he's averaging just about 13 yards per catch as well. What IU likes to do is suck the safeties up to the line of scrimmage to try to stop the run and then hit the receivers on the outside in one-on-one coverage for the big play. Mark, this is a big play offense. They get a yard here and a yard there and then one of the receivers gets a homerun. Sukay and Astorino must be much better at roaming the secondary and making sure that nobody gets behind them. The whole reason that Penn State doesn't play press coverage is to give the underneath catches but to take away the long plays. That didn't work out so well last week. We'll see how it works this week.
Mark, I really like Darius Willis. He's a redshirt freshman that has a whole lot of speed. He lacks some of the size necessary to be really successful in the Big Ten but he's got moves and got speed. With the Indiana offense causing the LBs and the defensive line to make decisions, they can get Willis to the edge where he can take off and run. Again, he's the homerun hitter. He might gain a couple of yards here and there and then bust out a 30 yard run because a LB took a bad angle. Sean Lee had a great game as far as stats last week. But, he was not really present on the edge. His knee has clearly taken away some of his explosiveness and strength. OSU was able to get an offensive lineman on him quickly and that kept him out of the backfield. He'll have to fight through that this week because he and Bowman are going to be really key to stopping the IU rushing attack.
These Hoosiers can play offense. They make mistakes when they need to build on their momentum. But, they are a young group of playmakers that have the potential to put up big points if the Lions don't play disciplined and get lazy on their assignments. I think that's going to be apparent right off the bat. The defense has been notoriously sluggish in these 12 pm games and I expect IU to get some points up on the board before the defense shuts them down.
MH: Penn State generally has the discipline to match up well with the option, but they will have to watch the gimmicks that are used to set up those big momentum-sparking plays. I expect that Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers will go far and wide with the passing game and try to test the fence to din a weak point. The Nitts will have to get some consistent pressure up front to collapse the pocket and Chappell out of his comfort zone.
I think Willis gives Indiana a powerful weapon that is hard to figure out given his speed and "wiggle." PSU's defensive front will have to play containment on him, which they failed to do last week. Bowman has been off his game and will have to get back to making impact plays to help backup the front four. You make a good point on the sluggish 12 pm starts and that is of concern to PSU's staff because the longer Indiana is in the game the better shot they will have. Keep in mind that Indiana has lost three Big Ten games by a combined score of seven points.
All-in-all Bradley has to get his guys together and focused on disrupting the Hoosier offensive attack and taking them out of their game plan. If they can't get a rush on watch for this to be a tough battle for Penn State; if that happens my concern is if the squad has the mental fortitude to punch back.
ND: The Achilles Heel was easily visible last Saturday as the Penn State punt coverage allowed two big returns, which led to easy Ohio State points. It doesn't get much easier this weekend. With as much practice as Indiana has had returning kicks, they have gotten quite good. The Hoosiers are 18th in the country with a 24.73 yards per return average. Meanwhile, Penn State is 114th with 18.22 yards per carry. Coach Paterno stated that they would be looking at personnel changes to get the right kids on coverage. We'll see what type of impact it makes on that side. What is not being addressed is Penn State's inability to flip field position on the return side.
MH: Special teams are a punch-line at this point. For a coach who has put such an emphasis on special teams for decades it almost seems as if Paterno is just hoping his special teams are adequate enough to not cause a problem for his team. We'll they are doing just that at this point. I am not sold we'll see major personnel changes and see that as a line, but if it happens I am all for it, but come on – the season is practically over, and this team should not be trying to figure out who should be on coverage this late.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: I can't remember doing this in the 14 years of the Blitz but I think the matchup to watch is the Penn State kick coverage trying to stop Ray Fisher. Fisher is 2nd in the country in kick returns and Wagner struggles to the get ball inside the 5 yard line. I'm very interested to see if the Lions can contain Fisher and if Wagner can keep the ball out of his hands.
MH: Your matchup may also be a key to the game. I am going with Indiana's back Willis against Penn State's front four. If the defensive line can bottle up the run it will open up the back seven on defense. If the linebackers are making tackles downfield it will allow Indiana to go into their bag ‘o tricks and ignite their momentum with some big plays, which have been their trademark all season.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Indiana is somewhat known for getting fast starts and then making every mistake imaginable to lose any sort of lead. Meanwhile, Penn State is known for sleeping through the first half and coming alive in the second half against lesser opponents. Can Indiana get out to a fast start and can Penn State come alive in the 2nd half? We'll see. The answer to that might define what happens in this game.
MH: I like that key Nirav. I am going with discipline of the defensive front seven. They have to stay in their lanes and on their assignments to plug up the option and take the Hoosiers out of the game.
ND: I think Indiana gets some points on the board while Penn State still tries to get out of the Buckeye funk. After awhile, the Lions will pull itself together and beat the Hoosiers. But, this game will be close because the Lions will be far too emotional after last week's crushing loss.
Penn State 31, Indiana 20
MH: Penn State should win this game if they come out, leverage their talent and the coaches don't handicap the squad a questionable scheme. I think the Lions come out slow, but end fast and manage to get another Big Ten win over a feisty team to send the Seniors out in style.
Penn State 27, Indiana 16
Until next time,
Fight On State!