Penn State (4-4 1-4 Big Ten) travels to Bloomington to play Indiana (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten) for the second straight season. Which team has the edge position-by-position?
The Hoosiers have a pretty solid offensive line. Indiana has allowed just 15 sacks and fields the nation’s 11th-ranked rushing offense. Center Jake Reed along with guards Collin Rahrig and Dan Feeney have owned the middle while tackles Jason Spriggs and Ralston Evans have kept defenders off of the Hoosiers’ quarterbacks. Penn State could get guard Miles Dieffenbach back. He has been sorely missed. Penn State’s struggles up front have been well-documented, and even if Dieffenbach is cleared by doctors to return to games, Penn State will likely be without left tackle Donovan Smith for a second straight game. In the meantime, Andrew Nelson will continue to play left tackle with center Angelo Mangiro playing Nelson’s right tackle spot. Wendy Laurent will play center. Advantage: Indiana
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Zander Diamont’s dad is a former soap opera star. Diamont himself hasn’t performed very well in the spotlight. The freshman has completed just 10 of 23 passes for 35 yards over the last two games filling in for injured starter Nate Sudfeld. Diamont’s longest pass went 13 yards. Christian Hackenberg’s frustration level finally boiled over last week and Penn State’s offensive captain has thrown just three touchdown passes in the last six games. Hackenberg’s tossed six picks in that span, too. The strong-armed sophomore has to snap out of his skid at some point, right? Advantage: Penn State
Tevin Coleman is the Indiana offense. He’s averaging 163 yards per game, better than any back in the country. He’s been physical and durable and is also a solid receiver out of the backfield. Change-of-pace back D’Angelo Roberts is plenty capable as evidenced by his 4.9 yards per carry average. Meanwhile it’s been a frustrating season for Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, who haven’t had a run of more than nine yards dating to the first quarter against Michigan. Advantage: Indiana
Hackenberg has spread the ball around this season but his primary target has been DaeSean Hamilton. But Hamilton has found the end zone just once while Lewis hasn’t scored on American soil yet this season. Jesse James has caught at least three passes in each of the last four games but his blocking has been shaky. Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall continue to rotate in and out and have played more physical with each game. Indiana’s receivers haven’t had many opportunities to make plays with Sudfeld out, and the Hoosiers don’t have much size among their three starters. Shane Wynn is just 5-foot-7 and 167 pounds. However, he has been the most effective player in Indiana’s short passing game with a team-best 29 catches, 436 yards and two touchdowns.. Advantage: Penn State
The Hoosiers have had little success generating a pass rush with their three-man front and have used five different players as starters this season. Bobby Richardson has been Indiana’s most dangerous pass rusher and leads the team with 41/2 sacks and 51/2 tackles for loss. Nate Hoff is a stout 6-foot-2, 305-pounder and a tough guy to move in the middle. He’s got five tackles for loss. Penn State has a great starting front four and a solid second front four. Austin Johnson is playing the best football of his career, as is Anthony Zettel. C.J. Olaniyan has been solid while Deion Barnes is chasing quarterbacks down after pockets collapse as good as anyone right now. Barnes is tied for fourth in the Big Ten with six sacks. Parker Cothren continues to emerge and looks like he’ll be Penn State’s next big thing at tackle. Advantage: Penn State
Penn State’s starting threesome of Mike Hull, Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman have been at their best when defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has turned them loose on blitzes. They’ve been excellent when sitting back in base defense, too. Most of Hull’s 92 tackles have come at the point of attack rather than after pursuits. Bell has played with a particular nastiness and Wartman has been solid, especially in coverage. Indiana’s linebackers haven’t done much to warrant any type of edge here seeing as how the Hoosiers have allowed 34 touchdowns so far. Forisse Hardin has proven himself capable in coverage with six pass breakups for Indiana. Advantage: Penn State
Nittany Lion defensive backs have been heavily involved in the team’s blitz packages and as a result have been set up nicely to contribute in run support. Teams haven’t had much success throwing against starting corners Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams and safeties Adrian Amos and Jesse Della Valle. Meanwhile, Marcus Allen has looked explosive splitting reps with Della Valle. Indiana’s leading tackler is free safety Antonio Allen. That’s not a good thing. Fellow safety Mark Murphy has the lone interception among the Hoosiers’ starters. Meanwhile, Indiana’s secondary has given up the most touchdowns in the Big Ten (18). Penn State has allowed just five. Advantage: Penn State
Penn State’s coverage units have played better, especially with Grant Haley and Christian Campbell as the gunners on punt coverage. Sam Ficken has been tremendous and is in a zone right now. The Nittany Lions are still flip-flopping punters where Daniel Pasquariello and Chris Gulla have struggled to boot the ball deep. Indiana punter Erich Toth averages about 41 yards per punt. Damon Graham is the Hoosers’ primary kickoff returner with 21 yards per return. Shane Wynn leads a mostly conservative punt return team and has returned just eight punts this season. Kicker Griffin Oakes is just five of seven on field goals for the Hoosiers. Advantage: Penn State
Indiana broke a 16-game losing streak last season and should have confidence they can beat Penn State again. But the Hoosiers have been hammered in their last three games, struggle in the red zone, can’t convert third downs and are struggling with a backup quarterback at the helm. Penn State players and coaches have put a positive spin on their four-game slide. It probably helps that the Penn State defense is playing turbocharged football. The Nittany Lions will want revenge for their embarrassing loss last season and will be as hungry as ever — their last win came more than a month ago — to finally get back in the win column. Advantage: Penn State