#10 Penn State (7-2, 5-1) vs. Indiana (5-4, 3-3)
The Hoosiers represent Penn State’s only remaining opponent with a winning record, so I’ve been encountering all sorts of unrestrained optimism about the Nittany Lions’ post-season destiny. The range is astounding — anywhere from the Outback Bowl in Tampa, a reachable target, to the Keith Jacksonesque “Grandaddy of Them All” in Pasadena, which would require the moon to be in the Seventh house and Jupiter to align with Mars. Or perhaps for Gary Johnson to be elected POTUS, as long as I’m writing this on the eve of the most ridiculous U.S. general election in a helluva long time.
(While I’m at it, God save the U.S. of A. — one way or the other, we’re going to need it! But I digress.)
But please, let’s take ’em one at a time. Right now, the Nittany Lions’ phones are no doubt beeping with texts from head coach James Franklin, reading, “Indiana. Indiana. Indiana.” Let us follow his suggestion and not look past this next game to the anticipated glory beyond.
And yeah, Katie, stop smelling damn roses, already, unless you’re harkening to the distant sounds of “Louie, Louie” at a long forgotten East Halls jammy in 1965.
Oh, OK. If it’s more fun to have your pipe dreams, go ahead by all means!
ESPN Power Rankings Jinx
Our much maligned friends at ESPN rank PSU fourth in the Big Ten after Michigan, tOSU, and Wisconsin, stating the following:
Many people doubted whether the Nittany Lions deserved the No. 12 ranking bestowed upon them by the playoff selection committee last week. Maybe it was too low. But Penn State might well be in the top 10 this week, after a thorough 41-14 destruction of Iowa.
That’s the kind of hype that jinxes us, especially if the team starts believing that they’re invincible Top Ten material. It is representative of the hysteria that started with a fluky win over tOSU followed by a pretty much expected ass-kicking of Purdue, and was amplified by the Nittany Lions giving Iowa the comeuppance they truly deserved.
Butbutbut, It’s a Noon Start!
Hey, beating the Hoosiers would be a milestone victory, as Penn State’s record would equal the maximum number of wins achieved in any season since the dreaded, unjust, costly sanctions were imposed (cue cello). It would further render possible the first 10-win season since 2009. Nevertheless, I ask you to please restrain your enthusiasm, folks, and don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Indiana was not a pushover for Ohio State and the Hoosiers will not similarly roll over for Penn State. Just because Iowa took it on the chin at the behest of the Nittany Lions in a whited-out St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver last week doesn’t mean our boys can go to Bloomington and wake the hell up for a noon start. In fact, history has told us to expect otherwise.
In my wrap-up of the Iowa game, I wrote that I’m starting to believe in these guys, and that is the truth. However, I cannot go all in quite yet. There are too many areas in need of improvement. I’ll plunge ahead cautiously, especially in recognition of the historically putrid performance in noon kickoff games on the road.
Indiana is coming off a 33-27 win over crappy Rutgers in Piscataway. One of my homeys watched the game and opined that it was the worst college game he ever watched, with the combatants looking like a couple of bad high school teams. If that indeed was the case, it would be hard to draw any worthwhile conclusions from a game in which the Hoosiers would have undoubtedly had to play down to the level of the Scarlet Knights. However, Indiana moved the ball well in the first half against Ohio State, which is a better indication of their capabilities.
Have they found a QB?
In any case, the Hoosiers needed to replace the highly productive Nate Sudfeld at QB, and they seem to have found a worthy successor in junior quarterback Rich Lagow, a juco transfer who was rated the top-ranked pocket-passing junior college QB by ESPN. Lagow is 6-6, 240, and hails from Plano, TX. He red-shirted in 2013 at Oklahoma State. Ride ‘im, Cowboy!
Lagow’s line in the Rutgers game was 28-40 for 394 yards, three TDs, and two INTs. Against tOSU, he was 14-28 for 182 with two TDs and one INT. He should be regarded as a dangerous enemy QB.
Nick Westbrook, a sophomore from Lake Mary, FL, is in third place in the Big Ten for receiving yards per game, while senior water bug speedster, 5-7, 180 lb Mitchell Paige, is fifth in receptions per game. Paige led all receivers in the Rutgers game with six catches for 100 yards; he had four for 44 against tOSU. Westbrook had five for 80 against Rutgers, and two for 67 against tOSU.
Indiana is third in total offense in the Big Ten after Ohio State and Michigan; in passing offense, the Hoosiers are second only to Purdue.
Unlike Purdue, Indiana has a respectable rushing offense. Junior running back Devine Redding averaged 4.1 yards per carry against both Ohio State and Rutgers. He has had four 100+ yard games this year, including two against Big Ten opponents Moo U. and Maryland.
The Hoosiers rank pretty close to the middle of the pack in most other categories, with the exception of place kicking, in which they are dead last. Their junior kicker, Griffin Oakes, just plain suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. He missed all three field goal tries against Rutgers, and missed one out of four PATs. Even high school girls make PATs.
Defensively, junior DB Richard Fant leads the B10 with 10 break-ups and one INT. Junior LB Marcus Oliver leads the league in forcing fumbles, having caused four cough-ups this year. Oliver’s linebacking partner, junior Tegray Scales, is third in tackles.
But by all measures, Indiana is middle-of-the-pack mediocre in both rush and pass defense.
What do the Lions need to do?
Hallelujah, the third-down conversion rate took a turn toward respectability in the Iowa game, but Penn State is still dead solid last in the Big Ten, a whole two percent behind Illinois. However, by virtue of last week’s performance, the Nittany Lions are no longer dead last in the FBS. Bowling Green now holds that distinction. PSU is fourth from the bottom, now leading Tulane, Arkansas State, and the aforementioned Bowling Green. This improvement has to continue in order to beat Indiana.
The erstwhile Five Traffic Cones, now getting A grades from all the idiots and Sanguinarians out there (which are not mutually exclusive subsets of humanity), have also dramatically improved. Even Paris Palmer, whom I’ve nicknamed The Colossus of Rhodes because he’s about that size, has shown that he’s not a statue all the time. Unfortulately, the Lions have suffered two serious losses to injury in serviceable junior linemen Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon. Sophomore Chasz Wright has to step up.
The Hoosiers score an average of 26.6 ppg. Against tOSU, they could muster only 17, while they laid a season-high 42 points on Maryland. Once again, as I’ve been saying most of the year, I still believe that Penn State needs to score lots of points to win. Playing a good first half is essential. None of this 10-point first half shit, OK? Let’s pile up at least 20 before the break!
I guess the recipe for the rest of the year is to pound the opposition with Saquon Barkley, force them to keep an eye on Trace McSorley, and sprinkle in some big passing plays. That just might work against these remaining opponents, especially because Moo U. ain’t what they used to be in the Narduzzi defense years. No reason not to expect it to be the case against the Hoosiers, is there? If the defense can keep Lagow, his receivers, and Redding corralled, the big-play offense can do its thing with impunity.
Alumnus of the Week
Indiana has graduated lots of famous and infamous people, but I’ve run off at the keyboard enough already, so I’ll leave it at that!
Mid-November in mid-Indiana could be bad news, but the present forecast is for a full day of sunshine with the high a reasonable 52°F and the low a chilly 31°F. As the game kicks off at high noon, the 347 people who show up at Memorial Stadium should enjoy temps at the upper end of that range.
The Bottom Line
We used to call this section the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, because that is what it was worth. It still is, but we decided to rename the section just for the hell of it. As one of our readers brings out, we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about, but then again, if we did, we might be earning the big bucks coaching in the Big Ten, not writing weekly bullshit about it. In any case, writing bullshit is fun and entertaining; so much the better if one’s favorite team puts an improving and viable football team on the field.
While I’m not buying the Top Ten hype, I’m nevertheless enjoying the newfound buoyancy of Penn State’s ride on the rough seas of the Big Ten. Suddenly, it’s fun again. Woo Hoo!
Let’s get down to business. Alright?
OK. The odds-makers have established Penn State as seven-point favorites over the Hoosiers, with an over/under of 58½. This roughly translates to an expected outcome of 33-26, with the Nittany Lions on top. Noon start on the road. Noon start on the road. I keep whispering this into my own ear. Noon start on the road. Noon start on the road. Shaddup, I’m not listening! A slow start, perhaps, but a dominating conclusion, not unlike how the Buckeyes did it. Penn State 38, Indiana 17. Take the under.
I’ll be back after the game with a Turkey wrap.