Penn State Preview: Indiana

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 4/6 Penn State (4-0) vs Indiana (2-2). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 75. Patchy fog in the morning; otherwise, sunny much of the day; mostly clear skies for kick-off.

The Line: Penn State -12.5 (SI Sportsbook).

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 22-2.

Last Meeting: Week One, 2020 season. Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT).

Last Week: Penn State topped Villanova, 38-17. Indiana held off Western Kentucky, 33-31.

Other Key Big Ten Games This Weekend:
– No. 5/5 Iowa at Maryland (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1)
– No. 14/14 Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, Noon ET, Fox)
– No. 11/10 Ohio State at Rutgers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Players To Watch – Penn State: QB Sean Clifford, WR Jahan Dotson, RB John Lovett, DE Arnold Ebiketie, S Jaquan Brisker.

Players To Watch – Indiana: QB Michael Penix Jr, WR Ty Fryfogle, DE Ryder Anderson.

The Lead: It’s another primetime clash for Penn State inside Beaver Stadium this week. Indiana won last year’s meeting thanks to Michael Penix Jr.’s outstretched dive for the pylon in overtime (OK, he was actually down short of the goal line and Penn State should have won that game, but I’m not going to harp on last year). It’s a new season and the Nittany Lions are a much better team than they were a year ago and Indiana has really struggled through four weeks of the season. Maybe it stems from the preseason expectations weighing a little too heavy on a program that’s almost always been a cellar dweller in the Big Ten. Whatever the reason, the Hoosiers aren’t sneaking up on anybody this year. Penn State has plenty of motivation and what should be another energetic home crowd behind them.

Penn State Wins If: The defense continues to play at its current level. Penix Jr. has struggled a lot throwing the ball down the field this season (55 percent completion rate, 6 INTs to 4 TDs). Penn State has a good pass rush and one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have talent on the outside in reigning Big Ten Receiver of The Year Ty Fryfogle and 3rd-Team All-Big Ten pick Peyton Hendershot, but the Nittany Lions are playing some terrific ball on the back on of their defense right now. I don’t expect this to be the week Indiana gets going through the air. Quick note also on Penn State’s offense. Sean Clifford has greatly improved since Penn State’s loss to the Hoosiers last year. He’s throwing the ball with confidence and getting it out to his variety of playmakers. I expect him to have another good day.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Indiana Wins If: The Nittany Lions’ inability to run the ball finally catches up with them. Indiana’s front seven is pretty good and the Hoosiers’ defense has had a knack for forcing turnovers. If the Penn State passing game has an off day, the ground game will have to be a lot better than it has been through four weeks. If both aspects of the offense struggle and we get another offensive showing similar to what we saw for large periods of the game against Wisconsin, Indiana can hang around and be in the game late with a chance for another upset.

Keep An Eye On: The S-Zone. Great work from our student organization, the Penn State Lion Ambassadors last week in setting up a terrific S-Zone in the south end zone. Last week’s S-Zone showcased a THON theme for the annual THON Game at Beaver Stadium. This week should be another great display under the primetime lights, with t-shirts organized to create a blue background engulfing the large white S. Learn more about the history of the S-Zone here.

Stripe Out 2021: If you’re coming to town for this weekend’s game, don’t forget that it’s a Stripe Out. Be sure to check out http://PennStateStripeOut.com to find out what to wear for your section.

Trivia Tidbit: Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson connected on a 52-yard touchdown on Penn State’s first offensive play against Villanova. It marked the 16th passing touchdown between the duo. They trail only Todd Blackledge-Kenny Jackson (17) as the top QB-WR touchdown pair in Penn State history. Blackledge, who of course started at quarterback for the Nittany Lions from 1981-1983, will be on the call this weekend for ABC with Sean McDonough and Molly McGrath.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Number To Know: Since 2016, Penn State holds a .758 winning percentage, with a record of 50-16, the sixth-best winning percentage among Power Five programs.

Membership Tidbit: Penn State Alumni Association are the key to everything we do at the Alumni Association. Members make it possible to keep Penn Staters connected with the University and each other through The Football Letter, events and publications, and so much more. If you’re a member, thank you for your support of the Penn State alumni community! If you’re not a member, you can join today at alumni.psu.edu/membership.

Score Predictions:
John Patishnock: Penn State 37, Indiana 14
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 31, Indiana 17

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

PENN STATE PREVIEW: BALL STATE

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 11/13 Penn State (1-0) vs. Ball State (0-1). 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ET), broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where fans will be in attendance for a game for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): Mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. Near perfect weather for a day of tailgating. and football.

The line: Penn State – 22.5

All-time series: This is the first-ever meeting between the Nittany Lions and Cardinals.

Last meeting: N/A

Throwback classic (2009): Without a game to relive between these two opponents, I took a quick look back at Penn State’s second game of the 2009 season, a 28-7 win over Syracuse. Senior quarterback Darryl Clark passed for 240 yards and tossed a couple of touchdowns as the Nittany Lions cruised to an out-of-conference win.

Last week: Penn State went on the road and picked up a huge road win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

The lead: Penn State returns home after that huge victory in Madison to face the defending MAC Champions, Ball State. While the Cardinals aren’t quite the level of opposition as the Badgers were, this Week Two contest won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination for the Nittany Lions. Ball State returns 21 starters from last year’s conference title winning team, including second-team All-MAC quarterback Drew Pitt. Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his weekly press conference that he does believe in the idea of “trap games,” and this game would certainly fit that bill. It makes his “1-0” mantra extra important this week. Don’t expect Penn State to look past the Cardinals after that win over Wisconsin and next week’s White Out showdown with Auburn looming — it’s just not in their DNA.

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State played turnover-free football last week and if that trend continues, it should see off any potential upset from Ball State. Sean Clifford and the offense grew into the game a week ago and most importantly avoided turnovers. If they pick up where they left off, the home fans will leave happy.

Ball State wins if: Penn State’s turnover woes from a year ago return and the defense’s performance last week can’t be duplicated. The Cardinals come into this one with plenty of confidence that they can walk away with a win. The last thing the Nittany Lions want to do is make mistakes and feed into the Cardinals’ belief.

Count on: A raucous atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. It’s been 651 days (We think we did the math right!) since fans of the blue and white got to see their in action at home. As James Franklin tweeted throughout the week, this is going to be one big family reunion. It might not reach the levels of noise and excitement as next week’s game with Auburn, but it will still be a ton of fun. We’re jazzed up to see the return of tailgates, team arrival, the Blue Band performing pre-game and at halftime, and all that makes Saturdays in Happy Valley the best show in college football.

Keep an eye on: the Penn State running game. The Nittany Lions struggled to run the ball against Wisconsin’s stout front seven last week. Expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to try and get Noah Cain and the rest of the Lawn Boyz going early. If Penn State can run more effectively this week, it should open up the passing game a lot more for Sean Clifford and co.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State snapped Wisconsin’s 25-game home opener win streak with the victory in Madison in Week One.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 38, Ball State 17
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 33, Ball State 20

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Back to Penn State Football

Freshman tight end Brenton Strange finished with a career-best 45 receiving yards Saturday against Michigan State, Penn State’s third straight win. Simmons totaled career-highs of seven tackles, two tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

There are any number of reasons for Penn State’s turnaround this season.

There’s the revamped running game, as the Nittany Lions have rushed for at least 245 yards in three of the last five games.

Another example is the successful rotating of both Sean Clifford and Will Levis into the offense, with Clifford finding targets like Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson, while Levis bulldozes defenses in short-yardage situations. In such instances, Levis essentially turns into a fullback, which should please a certain number of Penn State fans who have asked James Franklin when the team will recruit for such a position.

The Nittany Lions have also taken better care of the football and played lock-down defense in nice spurts, while also impacting the game through special teams.

Clifford summed it up nicely following the team’s latest win on Saturday.

“We’re just back to Penn State football,” he said. “It’s just that basic.”

He continued:

“Things haven’t gone our way all the time this year and we understand that. It’s been a weird year. No one’s going to deny that, it’s just been a very odd year, inside the facility, outside the facility. There’s a lot going on and the people just don’t understand. And I understand, we’ve got to win games, that’s just the fact of the matter but it’s nice to see that the team’s playing complete games.

When the offense needs help, the defense is stepping up. When the defense needs help, the offense is stepping up. Special teams are making plays, that’s Penn State football. That’s who we are, and that’s who we pride ourselves to be. I’m just happy for these guys, happy that I can be a part of it. We’ve just got to keep on grinding because we keep talking about how we want to get as many wins as we can this year, with next week and whatever happens after that, but we’re ready to catapult into the next season as well.”

Shane Simmons’ standout game against the Spartans helped the Nittany Lions’ defense clamp down in the second half Saturday. Simmons totaled career-high marks with seven tackles, two tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

After starting a season 0-5 for the first time in program history, Penn State has won its last three games, with the latest victory coming after the Nittany Lions trailed Michigan State 21-10 at halftime, with the Spartans scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter to momentarily surge ahead.

Such a half could have had the players and coaches thinking “Here we go again,” but instead, Penn State seized control in the second half and won by two scores, setting up a scenario where the Nittany Lions can avoid a losing season by beating struggling Illinois and closing out the season with a potential bowl victory.

After the team’s first win of the season against Michigan, Clifford brushed off the notion that he ever doubted himself. Watching the Nittany Lions for the last three weeks gives a good indication why he kept the faith, not just in himself but in the team.

In an era when players out opt and transfer if they don’t receive first-team reps every week, both he and Levis have made the two-quarterback system as seamless as could be hoped for.

When Levis comes into the game, everybody on the opposing sidelines knows there’s about a 90 percent he’ll take the snap and run for the first down. It doesn’t matter, because they still can’t stop him. Levis also has shown off his arm, at times, giving the Nittany Lions plenty of options no matter who’s in the game.

Seeing two guys who would be the starter at nearly every school in the Big Ten share snaps and help one another be successful is a good barometer for how the Nittany Lions have banded together during a time when so many other programs are falling apart.

“I think it all just comes down to the love that we have for each other,” Levis said in describing the team’s fight and resiliency. “There was no doubt about it, that we weren’t going to give up on each other, on the season, and we were going to approach every day just like we always have been: that it’s the most important day of the week and that game is the only game you’re focused on. We just made sure that we approached every day with the correct attitude and stuck to the process that we know has worked so long for this program. It’s great to see the wins start coming in now and that’s pretty much what it comes down to, just the love and the trust that we have for each other.”

The win over Michigan State ensured that one of the most beautiful and prestigious trophies in college football — the Land-Grant Trophy — would remain in Happy Valley. OK, so maybe we took a little bit of literacy license with that description.

Still, winning any game, and retaining any trophy, in a season that was scripted for The Twilight Zone, will look pretty good from any angle.

“The resilience that we have shown, again, I’m proud of them,” Franklin said. “It’s not something that we’ve experienced or been through, so to find a way to show that type of heart, to show that type of belief and brotherhood and stick together and stay together and battle through, I’m very proud of them. I’ve very proud of everybody. Again, it’s not easy to do. The last three weeks, we have found ways to win, which is really what we’ve done for seven years.”

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