Penn State braces for fast-paced Indiana

Storm Johnson and the Knights got the better of Jordan Lucas (9) and the defense last Saturday. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Storm Johnson and the Knights got the better of Jordan Lucas (9) and the defense last Saturday. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Posted: October 06, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - The Penn State secondary faced just one high-level passing game in the opening month of the 2013 season and came up lacking, giving up 288 yards and three touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' loss to Central Florida.

On Saturday, with the curtain rising on their Big Ten schedule, the Lions (3-1) and their young cornerbacks get a chance for redemption when they encounter the proficient passing game and high-tempo offense of Indiana (2-2) at Memorial Stadium.

Sophomore cornerbacks Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, both first-time starters, struggled in the Lions' 34-31 loss to Central Florida on Sept. 14. Williams, a converted wide receiver, found himself a frequent target the following week against Kent State but played better in Penn State's shutout victory.

"Our defense as a whole did not play well" against Central Florida, said junior safety Adrian Amos, who also plays some corner during games. "It wasn't just the secondary or the corners of the linebackers. We lost as a team.

"At corner, you've got to have a short memory because you've got to play the next play. Things happen. You have bad plays back there. They're young . . . they're getting used to the position and playing the position more, so every week is going to get better."

The two corners, and a corps of safeties that will be without injured junior Ryan Keiser, need to be alert and ready for an Indiana offense that passes for 348.5 yards per game and averages 44.5 points. The Hoosiers are adept at finding their skill players with short passes in space and allowing them to beat tacklers one-on-one.

A bigger challenge with the Hoosiers is that they have the fastest offensive tempo in the conference. They are third in the league in average plays - more than 76 per game - despite the fact they are last in time of possession.

"They do a fantastic job," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "You have to get lined up, communicate properly, and handle the tempo. They get you into situations where you're going to have to make plays in space."

Penn State has its own version of a quick tempo, called "NASCAR," so its defense is accustomed to playing fast. But the Lions have to be fundamentally strong.

"We have to handle their tempo," Lucas said. "They're going to get the ball to their playmakers and we've got to make tackles in space. People are going to make catches and the key is to get them down after they make the catch. So we have to take pride in tackling."

Sophomore Nate Sudfeld has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1.146 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, in his last start, a 45-28 loss by Indiana to Missouri, he threw three interceptions and was relieved by Tre Roberson, who is better moving in the pocket.

Indiana has a mix of big and speedy receivers. Cody Latimer, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, leads the team with 19 receptions and 346 yards, while 5-7 Shane Wynn averages almost 20 yards per catch and has scored four touchdowns.


Penn State at Indiana

When: Saturday at noon

Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.

Records: Penn State, 3-1; Indiana, 2-2. This is the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.

TV/Radio: Big Ten Network; WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).

Coaches: Penn State, Bill O'Brien (second season, 11-5); Indiana, Kevin Wilson (third season, 7-21).

Series: The Nittany Lions are 16-0 in the series; the NCAA has vacated 11 of the victories.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

The Lions should be able to crank up their rushing attack against the Hoosiers, who are ranked 115th in FBS in rush defense (nearly 248 yards allowed per game).

A critical area for the Penn State secondary will be sound tackling of the Hoosiers' skill players in the open field.

The Nittany Lions have to place an increased emphasis on getting turnovers. They have claimed only five in four games, second-worst among conference teams.

THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch has not lost a single yard in 32 carries on the season. He is averaging 8.2 yards per rush.

Not allowing for vacated wins, the Nittany Lions own a combined 52-11-1 record against four of the Big Ten teams on their 2013 schedule - Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue. Against their other four opponents - Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin - they are 33-42.

Though last in the Big Ten in time of possession, the Hoosiers are third in average number of snaps at 76.5. If you do the math, they get off a play once every 20.2 seconds.

- Joe Juliano


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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