#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.
Big Al says
Well, ever since the Ohio State win, the Sanguinarians have been touting Indiana as the last remaining obstacle to a 10-2 season. Since they’re usually full of crap, I’m going to go against conventional wisdom and say that State covers the spread fairly easily. The final margin will probably depend on how well Indiana’s defense can contain Penn State’s big play potential.
I watched Indiana’s games with Nebraska and NW and I’m not impressed with Indiana’s offense or their quarterback. Statistics be damned, Lego reminded me a lot of State’s Tony Morelli. Strong, but very erratic arm with limited mobility and his receivers drop a lot passes – probably because he throws them too damn hard. Plus, State has stuffed Indiana’s offense the last two years although they did play against the back up quarterback both times. Bottom line – if State can sack Lego early, I think Indiana’s offense folds.
I’m drinking the Kool Aid regarding State’s defense. With the return of Bell and Cabinda and nine games of playing experience for the new defensive line, I think the defense is every bit as good as they were last year. The question marks are still the offense and the special teams. Except for one kick off return, the special teams did not exactly cover themselves with glory in the last two games. And, I’m still not convinced that JoMo’s scheme will work against a defense that is both fast and experienced. (Purdue was neither and Iowa was slooow) I had hard time telling how good Indiana’s defense is, but I’m going to give them the benefit of a home field advantage. Let’s say Penn State 30 Indiana 13.
And BTW I think there’s a 70% chance State does finish 10-2. IMO The game they’re mostly likely to screw up is Rutgers.
The Nittany Turkey says
I’m still wary of Indiana’s passing offense against a somewhat erratic Penn State secondary. And that’s not the only thing that concerns me.
They pounded defenseless Maryland for 650 yards, 414 of that total on the ground. Our big-play offense fell short of that mark by 126 yards total. Another common opponent, tOSU, allowed 383 yards, 290 of which were terrestrial — and that game was at the Horseshoe. Playing in the whited-out, friendly confines of St. Joe Stadium, the Nittany Lions’ big-play offense cranked out only 276 against the Buckeyes, of which 122 were rushing. PSU ranks middle-of-the-pack in rushing defense, allowing 166.3 ypg. Granted that the Terps have no rushing defense to speak of, but how about tOSU? They rank in the top quartile, allowing 119 ypg on the ground. They held Penn State to that number, but the Hoosiers more than doubled it. I hope you could follow this convoluted paragraph.
Alright, granted that the PSU defense has improved, and is probably better than that 166.3 ypg number suggests. But I’m still not counting this chicken before it hatches. Indiana can do damage in a couple different ways, and sleeping through the first half will be perilous.
Big Al says
Turkey, I don’t know where you get your statistics, but Espin says Indiana only got a total of 281 yards running and passing against tOSU. More importantly, they only got 99 yards rushing on 40 carries or 2.48 yards per attempt. And they got only 88 and 84 total yards rushing against Nebraska and Northwestern albeit on fewer attempts. They didn’t exactly gash Wake Forest on the ground either – 115 yards on 32 attempts. Their rushing success against Maryland was apparently an aberration.
So, I don’t think I’m drinking too much Kool Aid to think State’s defense can stop them from running. Indiana’s offense will have to pass against Penn State to be successful and I was not impressed with Lego in the 2 games I watched. Maybe he’s better than what he showed in those games, but he was a definite downgrade from Sudfield last year. Also, Indiana’s running the same offense scheme that they did the last two years and the defense stuffed it both years. IMO, if State loses this game, it will be because the offense and/or special teams didn’t do their part and not because the defense got torched and the game turned into a shoot-out.
The Nittany Turkey says
Well, when I try to prove a point, it would pay for me to double-check the stats I employ. In this case, I read the OSU stats and credited IU with them. Your numbers are quite correct. Mah bad! Jeez! LOL! I guess I had too much going on today.
Seems like we might see our old friend Zander Diamont, mainly in the wildcat. he had 104 yards on 11 carries against the Terps, and 4 for 56 against Rutgers. He also completed a pass in both games.
Now, if my credibility is not completely out the window, I have to hang onto my contention that Lagow might pose some problems for the Big D. When he completes more than 60% of his passes, the Hoosiers win. He did that in the wins over FIU (66.7), Testicular State (63.0), Moo U. (61.5), Maryland (64.0), and Rutgers (70.0), which were all of Indiana’s wins. Lagow is no threat with his feet, a fact that accounts for his low QB ratings.
Devine Redding has 100+ yard rushing games against FIU, Testicular State, Moo U., and Maryland. In all his sub-100 yard rushing games except Rutgers, IU lost, but in the Rutgers game he had 105 total rushing plus receiving. Only tOSU (3.5) and NWU (2.6) were able to hold him to fewer than 4 ypc.
So, what’s the over/under on completion percentage for Lagow and on yards per carry for Redding?
I’m Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, wastin’ time, while I await your wisdom on the subject.
Big Al says
Sorry. I didn’t see your response until Sunday. I would have said Redding would get around 3 and half yards per carry. I didn’t check his stats to see what he actually got. IU as a team only got 2.7 yards per carry but that includes sacks. Which is about what I expected from them. However, I was wrong about Lego. He was more accurate than I expected although he still throws a hard ball to catch and his receivers drop too many balls.
The biggest surprise was State’s piss poor running – it was even worse than the Michigan game. Some of the underperformance can be blamed on the loss of two starting linemen but I really don’t understand why everyone has to switch positions when somebody goes down. Why do you move a starting guard to tackle and then bring in somebody off the bench to replace the guard? Why not just bring somebody off the bench to replace the tackle?
My old HS coach never expected a lineman to learn 4 positions. It was hard enough to teach tackles to play both strong side and weak side, let alone training them to become guards. If too many tackles were injured you promoted a tackle from the JV team.
The Nittany Turkey says
That O-Line was putrid, but Barkley kept his cool through the frustration. He had only 20 yards through the first three quarters. Thank God we have a bye week at Rutgers. Maybe some wounds will heal.
I think you’re right about Lagow not being able to throw touch passes, but he seems to have a quick mind and can throw darts like an NFL QB. He just needs a little bit of training. That one damn throw across his body to the other sideline while moving to his right can’t be made by many in the NFL. I know arm strength isn’t everything, but he’s got good instincts and the rest is trainable. I don’t think he’s a Morelli. As far as dropped balls are concerned, his lowest completion rate was against tOSU, and that was 50%. He’s averaging 61% for the season. Imagine what he’ll be able to do with receivers who don’t drop the tough ones. Can you tell that I like this kid?
On to the bye week.
What does worry about this game is Al’s turnaround of sorts! Sheesh, I read his analysis and I thought I was reading something K. John wrote last year! Anyway, I am a tad concerned about this one for the obvious reasons, on the road, noon start, 5 game winning streak etc, etc, etc, but I look at it realistically and did not expect us to be sitting at 7-2 on November 11th anyway. So while I still feel a win is in the cards, I think they will need to work hard for it this week. A loss wouldn’t bother me either like it would have earlier this year as I feel they are not a top 10 team in my humble opinion, so finishing 9-3 instead of 10-2 is okay in my world (they will beat Rutgers and MSU.) I’m going to call this one Lions 28-IU 17 in a game that’s decided in the 4th quarter.
The Nittany Turkey says
I’m worried about Al, too, but I believe that this game could snap him back to reality. Perhaps his head is just momentarily disoriented in the wake of this week’s crazy election.
While I tend to agree that the Lions will pull it off in the second half, I secretly hope that they can put 31 points on the board in the first half, quelling our perennial noon start on the road fears. Now that medical marijuana will soon be legal in Florida, I’m sure I’ll be able to get myself diagnosed with a qualifying condition, which will allow me to embark on further such flights of fancy.
I think Legow is “not too bad”, which is the paramount rating given by members of my family.
“How do you feel after winning $300 million in the Power Ball jackpot?”
“Not TOO bad.”
Yeah. That’s my family.
Beat the Hoosiers, forsooth!