Penn State’s first-team defense worked against two separate scout team offense in practice this week: One would run the play as called, then scurry off the field as the second scout squad hurried to snap the ball again.
Tempo, tempo, tempo.
That speed is what hurt the Nittany Lions last year at Indiana. And they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again when they host the Hoosiers on Saturday afternoon.
“They’re running sort of the same stuff that they ran in recent years,” senior defensive tackle Parker Cothren said. “They’re still going at a fast tempo, and that’s really their thing.”
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Added cornerback Christian Campbell: “We make practice harder than the game, and we’ve been getting a lot of reps for tempo this week and been working on it.”
Campbell admitted that Indiana’s quick-hitting, hurry-up attack “probably got to us for a little bit” in their last meeting.
That’s undeniable. In Penn State’s 45-31 win in 2016, Indiana ran 82 plays with 26 minutes, 21 seconds of possession. That rate — one play every 19.5 seconds — is the fastest clip the Nittany Lions faced all season.
Of course, Penn State won last year’s meeting so everything ended well for James Franklin’s crew. Despite Indiana’s frenetic pace, the No. 10 team in the country escaped unscathed for the most part. The Nittany Lions’ defense was worn and weary as Indiana racked up 454 yards of offense.
But the tempo creates challenges that defenses otherwise don’t have to worry about.
“It’s conditioning, having poise, being composed,” Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda said. “When they’re going fast, it’s getting the calls in quick and getting it communicated before they snap the ball.”
It’s difficult, too, when the up-tempo side has talent.
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow — who completed 23 of 40 passes for 292 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions against Penn State last year — keys the Hoosier offense. Wide receiver Simmie Cobbs is an NFL-caliber weapon at Lagow’s disposal.
Ohio State saw the chemistry between Lagow and Cobbs first-hand. The quarterback found his favorite target 11 times for 149 yards and a touchdown on Aug. 31.
The Buckeyes ultimately put the Hoosiers away with a 49-21 victory to open the season, but it was shaky early on. The Hoosiers held a halftime lead, and it was because of their tempo.
In the first half, Indiana ran 57 plays, averaged one snap every 15.9 seconds and put together two remarkable touchdown drives. The first, an 11-play, 87-yard march, took 2:37. The second, a 10-play, 80-yard clinic, chewed up only 2:03.
The Lagow-to-Cobb connection accounted for more than half the distance of those drives (six hookups, 84 yards).
“We all saw the Ohio State game to start the year and their chemistry and their connection together,” Franklin said. “That’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Indiana’s tempo was a “point of emphasis” all week. After working against a pair of scout teams and studying tendencies in the film room, Penn State’s defense feels prepared for not only the fast pace, but also Lagow, Cobbs and company.
On Saturday, we’ll see how much the Nittany Lions learned from last year’s matchup and Ohio State’s wobbly Week 1.