IU good opening conference test
Indiana is to Big Ten football what Penn State is to Big Ten basketball. An also ran. But, the Hoosiers provide a good opening conference game for the Lions, and how this weekend goes may determine how the rest of this season goes.
While Indiana will not challenge for a conference title, the Crimson and White are not an automatic W either. At 2-2, with losses to Missouri and Navy, it’s easy to overlook this week’s opponent. But, there are several reasons not to do so.
First, Penn State, in my opinion, is not good enough to overlook anybody. The Lions barely beat a so-so Syracuse team on neutral turf, were not overly impressive in a win over Eastern Michigan, and lost to the only good team they’ve played so far. This is also their first game on the road, or at least where it’s actually in the other team’s stadium.
Also, IU has a potent offense, and uncharacteristically, PSU’s weak side of the ball is on defense. The Hoosiers put up at least 28 points in every game (I avoid their scoring average because of an absurd 73 points against I-AA Indiana State), and average almost 350 yards a game through the air. The Lions pass rush is not good, the secondary is exceeding expectations but can be beaten, as Central Florida showed, and the linebacking corps remains thin and a bit uneven. This last area will get considerable help by the return from injury of leader Mike Hull this week.
Central Florida gave 12th-ranked South Carolina a tough test last week, but that game also showed the difference between a top-25 defense and what the Lions have on the field now. Blake Bortles moved the ball against the Gamecocks, but ultimately the SC defense made the big plays, including an effectively game-ending interception, when it counted. Penn State could not do so against the Knights.
While Nate Sudfeld may not be the NFL ready guy many think Bortles is, if the Lions can’t mount a consistently better pass rush than they have shown the ability to do so far, Sudfeld is plenty good enough to make it a long day for the Penn State secondary.
How Penn State is able to handle a conference team with a high powered offense on the road may set the tone for how well Penn State can do this year. The Lions will be decided underdogs in big games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan. PSU could certainly win one or even two of those, but that schedule and what the team has shown so far makes it imperative the Lions win their other four conference games, starting this week against a decent, but beatable team, on the road.