It is not every year that Penn State has a game against Indiana circled on their schedule. After last year, however, that has to be the case this season. The Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are off to a great start to the season and continue to climb the national rankings, and this week they get their first crack at revenge on the Hoosiers (2-2, 0-1).
Indiana stunned Penn State in the delayed Big Ten opener in 2020 when Michael Penix Jr. stretched for the end zone on a game-winning, two-point conversion to upset the Nittany Lions in an overtime thriller in Bloomington. As Indiana went off to a school-best regular season, James Franklin's program endured a program-worst 0-5 start before ending the year with four straight wins.
Does Indiana have what it takes to stun Penn State again? Or will safety Jaquan Brisker and the Penn State defense put the clamps down in front of a raucous crowd in Beaver Stadium?
Indiana at No. 4 Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Penn State -12.5
When Indiana Has the Ball
Indiana is hoping to get more consistent play out of its top offensive players, including Penix. It is easy to see this season has seen the good and bad of the Hoosiers' quarterback, with a completion rate under 46 percent against ranked opponents Iowa and Cincinnati and over 66 percent against FCS Idaho and WKU from Conference USA. That probably doesn't bode well for the Hoosiers, as Penn State's defense is clearly in the same tier as the Hawkeyes and Bearcats rather than the Vandals and Hilltoppers. Penix has been intercepted six times, three each by Iowa and Cincinnati. Indiana's running game has also struggled against the better defenses they have faced.
Penn State's defense has thrived with the aforementioned Brisker and Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie creating pressure up front. Jesse Luketa has been playing multiple positions and has made plays, particularly at defensive end. Expect more of that this weekend.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Penn State's big plays through the air with Sean Clifford connecting with top target Jahan Dotson and the emerging Parker Washington have helped to counterbalance a lack of production on the ground. The Nittany Lions will hope to see improved results with the running game as John Lovett gets more comfortable in the offense and Noah Cain looks to get back in the swing of things after getting banged up against Auburn two weeks ago. Clifford is coming off just the second 400-yard passing game in school history, and he has clearly been making better decisions with the ball this season.
Indiana's defense has been giving up 5.17 yards per play this season, so containing Penn State's offense may prove to be too difficult to do consistently for four quarters.
If Indiana is going to win this game, the Hoosiers may need to get into a bit of a shootout with Penn State. The problem is the Nittany Lions' defense isn't about to let that happen. Clifford will continue to avoid making costly mistakes that plagued him last season, and his reliance on his improved targets will lead the home team to a win. Expect a close game for much of the proceedings before a late score helps put this one out of reach.
Prediction: Penn State 31, Indiana 17
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