Penn State vs. Indiana: Breaking Down Each Side's Keys to Victory

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

Aug 31, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) prepares to throw the ball during the third quarter against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium.  Penn State defeated Syracuse 23-17.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams looking to get off to a good start in conference play will battle when Penn State travels to face Indiana.

The Nittany Lions trusted freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to run the offense, and he has come through in a big way, getting the squad to 3-1.

Meanwhile, Indiana is only 2-2 but has proven to have one of the nation's most high-powered offenses at 44.5 points per game. If the Hoosiers can keep it up, they can reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007.

Either team is capable of winning what should be a competitive contest, but the game will come down to which side can do a better job of following these keys to victory.

Penn State

Run the Ball Early

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 10: Running back Zach Zwinak #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs with the ball against  the Nebraska Cornhuskers defense during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska beat Penn State
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Through the first three games of his career, Christian Hackenberg looked fantastic. He completed 71.7 percent of his passes and was making some incredible passes down the field.

While he struggled against Kent State in the last game, the running game carried the offense with 287 yards and three touchdowns. This will need to continue to keep the pressure off the youngster.

Most importantly, this will be the freshman's first true road game. While Memorial Stadium is one of the smaller venues in the Big Ten, the opposing fans can still get annoying.

Penn State needs to do whatever takes to avoid relying on Hackenberg in this game and allowing him to easily transition into conference play.

Make Aggressive Plays on Defense

Sep 14, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions safety Malcolm Willis (1) intercepts the ball intended for Central Florida Knights wide receiver Breshad Perriman (11) during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld have each played at quarterback for Indiana and it would not be surprising to see both of them step on the field against Penn State.

Sudfeld has had the bigger role this season and has developed a reputation of someone who can simply make things happen on the field. He has a strong arm and is always capable of leading his team to a big play at any time.

However, he also threw three interceptions in the loss to Missouri, and his job is far from guaranteed. If he gets into trouble, he could end up forcing even more than usual in order to impress his coaches.

As a result, the Penn State defenders have to be aggressive when the ball is in the air. This could include jumping routes or whatever else is necessary to force interceptions. 

This strategy will not only put the offense in good shape, but also, it will cause future problems for the opposing quarterback.


Get to the Quarterback

Sep 14, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA;  Bowling Green Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson (11) is sacked by Indiana Hoosiers defensive end Nick Mangieri (56) at Memorial Stadium. Indiana won 42-10. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

As I previously mentioned, this will be Hackenberg's first road game and his first Big Ten battle. It will be up to the Indiana defense to provide a rude awakening.

The Hoosiers have done an alright job in the pass-rush so far this season, totaling 10 sacks in four games. However, the talent is there to be even better.

At the very least, the defensive front has to get hits on the young quarterback to throw him off of his game. If he is comfortable in the pocket, he will tear this defense apart.

On the other hand, if Hackenberg is constantly under pressure, it will be hard for him to post the high numbers he is used to providing.

Stick With Run

Aug 29, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman (6) runs the ball against the Indiana State Sycamores at Memorial Stadium. Indiana won 73-35. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State is only allowing 3.04 rushing yards per attempt this season, but that does not mean Indiana should completely forget about the run.

That is what happened in the loss to Navy when Sudfeld led the team with 35 rushing yards. Against Missouri, the running backs combined for only 20 rushing attempts compared to 53 passing attempts from the quarterbacks in the loss.

Obviously, the game score often dictates the play-calling. Still, it is important not to forget about the ground success too early.

The Hoosiers are averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry this year and have multiple running backs that can get it done on the ground, such as Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston. They need to get their touches in order for the offense to move the ball like it should.


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