Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions look to stay undefeated at home against the Hoosiers
A week after an exhilarating road win in Big Ten play, Penn State returns home for another Big Ten matchup with Indiana. Penn State will be paying tribute to the past with a unique uniform design taking various elements from the program's history, but the focus will be on the present with Saquon Barkley building momentum toward a possible Heisman Trophy at the end of the year and the Nittany Lions' Big Ten championship hopes still in front of them.
But Indiana is a tricky hurdle that can pose a problem if Penn State is not careful. Indiana put up 31 points on Penn State last season, and the Hoosiers have a history of making some games a bit closer than the experts and fans would anticipate over the years. Can quarterback Richard Lagow lead the Hoosiers offense to keep up the scoring pace against an offense that will look to make up for a low-scoring affair last week?
Indiana at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Saquon Barkley an emerging Heisman favorite
Anyone who tuned in to watch Penn State's last-second win against Iowa last week likely witnessed another reminder of just how good Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is. Other running backs in the Big Ten and nation will have more impressive-looking rushing numbers, but Barkley enters this week as the Big Ten's leading receiver, and he pads his all-purpose yardage totals with kickoff returns, although he has yet to break loose for a huge kick return. It may be only a matter of time before he gets room to bust open for a kick return touchdown if he continues to be used in that fashion. The bottom line is that Barkley can hurt a team in so many different ways: running the ball, working off a screen, out of a wheel route, and blocking. He really does a little bit of everything, and Penn State needed all of it to avoid a loss at Iowa last week.
2. Penn State's defense getting overlooked
It is incredibly easy to focus on what Penn State does on offense with Barkley, but the defense has been playing quite well so far this season too. Maybe it has not been tested quite yet, but the Nittany Lions have been playing sound defense this season. Aside from one or two plays, Penn State clamped down on Iowa and Akrum Wadley last week. This week, Jason Cabinda, Troy Apke, Marcus Allen and company will try to hold down an Indiana offense that hung with Ohio State for a while in the opener and has since then put up 86 points in its last two games. Penn State has forced a Big Ten-leading 10 turnovers through four games, and Indiana enters the game with a season turnover margin of minus-one. Indiana's defense, 13th in the Big Ten in total defense, could struggle to slow down Penn State.
3. J-Shun Harris II could be the spark for Indiana's upset bid
Last week saw Penn State get tangled in a battle for field possession with the Hawkeyes in the first half. If Indiana can get mixed up in a similar style of game, then having the Big Ten's top punt return threat could come in handy. The Hoosiers' Harris has returned seven punts for a Big Ten-leading average of 26.14 yards per return, and two of those punts have been returned for touchdowns, equaling the total of touchdown punt returns by the rest of the Big Ten combined. Penn State has done well in punt coverage, so Harris may have trouble finding room to work, but he could help set up Indiana for some decent field position. It is worth noting that Penn State's DeAndre Thompkins is the Big Ten's second-leading punt returner in average yards, the conference leader in punt return yardage, and is one of the two other players to take one to the house.
We watched Indiana give Ohio State some trouble in the season opener before the Buckeyes hit their groove for a second-half push. But that game was at home in Bloomington. Can Indiana give Penn State similar troubles on the road? The Hoosiers defense is not in bad shape, but putting up the same kind of fight Iowa presented on the road could be an issue, especially with Penn State's offense looking to get off to a fast start after last week's upset scare on the road in Iowa City. Stopping Saquon Barkley will be nearly impossible, but taking away big plays from Trace McSorley is not. But tying down the Penn State offense may not last long enough for Indiana to score a major upset on the road. Look for Penn State to pull off a similar result as Ohio State did in Week 1 and pull away for a comfortable victory in the second half.
Prediction: Penn State 36, Indiana 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.