Penn State-Indiana storylines, a recruiting note of note, more: 5th quarter
Penn State is ready to kick off the October portion of its schedule with a visit from Indiana.
The 7:30 p.m. contest at Beaver Stadium also welcomes conference-only play onto the Nittany Lions' schedule following a 3-0 run against teams outside of the Big Ten in September. Head coach James Franklin's team also beat conference crossover foe Wisconsin during the season's first month, of course.
Now, Penn State must put those wins in the rearview mirror and bring the positives with them while leaving the negatives behind as the quest to cement a top-five ranking continues.
In this week's Friday's Fifth Quarter, we'll cover keys to another victory, a recruiting nugget to know, and more as the countdown to kickoff continues.
1. Storylines that shaped the week
Various sportsbooks listed Penn State as about a 10-point favorite to start the week, but with game time almost here, that number has crept up to 12.5 and could reach two touchdowns by Saturday night.
Here are the storylines that have received the most discussion so far:
--Is it a revenge game? The Nittany Lions have been adamant throughout the week that they are focused on this year's Hoosiers team and not last year's close and controversial loss in Bloomington to open the year. It's understandable but also hard to envision that the guys who played in that one and are back for this one aren't thinking about it a little bit, but at least publically, they aren't interested in that conversation.
--James Franklin didn't take long after last weekend's win to point out that his team didn't practice the way he wanted it to leading up to the Villanova game. That doesn't seem to be the case this week, as players and coaches alike have sounded pleased with the effort on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. We'll find out by the end of the weekend whether or not that carries over to the game field.
--Indiana lost one of its receivers, DJ Matthews, for the season due to an ACL injury. The Hoosiers' offense has been somewhat start and stop so far this year, due in large part to quarterback Michael Penix Jr., throwing a few too many interceptions (six so far), and now it must contend with losing one of its top options by the numbers.
--Will Penn State be able to run the ball more effectively than it has so far this year? And, could it close the game out on the ground if needed? That's been a popular talking point this week, as well, and probably only second to chatter about Franklin wanting his team to play with more of an edge.
2. Keys to victory
With no great desire to tout the party line, it does feel smart to throw out last year's Penn State-Indiana game from a prediction standpoint.
The Nittany Lions have a new offensive coordinator, the Hoosiers have a new defensive coordinator (Charlton Warren), both teams had a normal offseason, back Stevie Scott is out of Bloomington, and transfer Stephen Carr is in, and while PSU no longer has tight end Pat Freiermuth, Indiana also lost receiver Whop Philyor to the pros.
So, pandemic shortened season aside, these two teams are quite different from the ones who played a 36-35 overtime affair in Bloomington almost 365 days ago.
Keeping the focus on what the 2021 version of these two programs have shown us so far, Penn State's keys to victory including taking advantage of Penix Jr.'s turnover problem and making them count instead of dropping sure interceptions. That's step one for the defense, step two is containing dangerous receiver Ty Frygogle and oft-used tight end Peyton Hendershot, and the third and final one is not letting Penix Jr., move the chains by running. If Brent Pry's bunch can limit those two playmakers and keep the IU passer in the pocket and in check, then the Nittany Lions will beat the spread.
To do so, though, they're going to have to score. As has been discussed almost endlessly this week, Penn State has had more success through the air than on the ground so far, and Indiana has been good at stopping the run but not as good when it comes to keeping opposing aerial attacks at bay. So, while it might not be what everyone wants to see this weekend, get ready for more quick strikes from Sean Clifford and co., a lot of screens and short passes that mimic the run game, and plenty of passing, because another big day out of No. 14 and guys like Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and the tight ends will set PSU on the road to victory. The plan should be to pass until Indiana stops it, and it's a safe bet that they won't, even if linebacker Micah McFadden is definitely a future pro and potential game wrecker.
3. Recruiting preview
A nice list of prospects will be on hand for this game, as our Ryan Snyder has tracked inside our Lions Den forum throughout the week.
The Nittany Lions do not appear to be set to get an on-field commitment during warmups for the third week in a row after Lamont Payne went that route prior to the Auburn game while Mathias Barnwell did so before Villanova, but a new addition could be on the horizon nonetheless.
All eyes will be on three-star Texas receiver Omari Evans on Saturday, as he's set to decide between Rutgers, Penn State, and others. His top seven, which was announced back in August, also included Indiana, Arkansas, Houston, Baylor, and Vanderbilt. All signs point to the Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights being the main contenders, however.
With about 24 hours or so until a decision is made (an official time has not been shared yet), Penn State, which has 25 high school commits currently including at least three from wide receivers (and maybe as many as five depending on where Cristian Driver and Mehki Flowers end up) leads in the Rivals' FutureCast.
Evans, who stands 6-foot, 170 pounds and plays at Shoemaker High in Killeen, has burning speed and the tools to be a big-time playmaker at the school of his choice.
Stay tuned to BWI throughout Saturday to find out where that will be.
4. Penn State wins/loses if
Everyone's favorite Friday game is back. How would you complete these sentences?
Penn State wins if the Nittany Lions again win the turnover battle (that includes no more than one dropped interception), pass for at least 300 yards, and keep one of Fryfogle and Hendershot out of the end zone while also making no special teams miscues.
Penn State loses if Sean Clifford throws a pair of interceptions, Jordan Stout misses a field goal, and the secondary suddenly breaks more than it bends in part due to a pass rush that doesn't get home.
5. Final thoughts
Another evening kickoff is here, and we can't wait to see what the StripeOut crowd looks like under the Beaver Stadium lights.
Penn State must use its perfect September as a springboard to kickoff October. It has a long history of beating up on Indiana in State College, and doing so again here would propel it into next week's matchup at Iowa. Which, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but the Hawkeyes play Maryland tonight, and it's a game worth tuning in to.
At any rate, enjoy the game!
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