Nittany Lions hope 'faster' white cleats will help vs. Indiana

Penn St Practice Football
Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer tries out the white cleats that the team will wear for the Indiana game.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State will break out throwback uniforms Saturday when it opens its Big Ten home schedule against Indiana, and you’re going to have to be extra observant to see most of the designs of the past, such as block numbers, a stripe down the pants, and gray face masks.

The most obvious change, however, is the one that has the players excited: white cleats similar to what the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions wore in the 1979 Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

“Speaking for a lot of the guys, we’re pretty excited about the white cleats,” senior tight end Mike Gesicki said, “just because obviously, here at Penn State, we’re wearing black cleats every single day, every single game. We understand that. We love it. It’s a great tradition. It’s something that we appreciate and something that we want to continue to keep going.

“But to be able to switch it up for one game, it will be cool, a new look. I haven’t worn white cleats since high school, so it will be fun.”

Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda called the white cleats “the big highlight that everybody’s talking about.

“You look faster in white cleats,” he said. “I’m happy we’re able to do it this year. It’s a nice switch-up. Sometimes, the fans get a little hectic about change, but I think it’s good. It’s a good thing, especially if you do it once a year, so I’m excited for it.”

The throwback uniforms are a way for Penn State to salute its past in what officials have called the “Generations of Greatness” game. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said this week the move “might bring us a little more juice at a good point in the season.”

“I do think it’s something the guys will be excited about on Saturday,” he said. “I think it’ll be fine. They’re really excited about the white shoes. It’s like when you’re little and you get a new pair of sneakers that you think are faster. So it’s kind of like that.”

The Nittany Lions certainly will have to play faster to deal with the up-tempo offense of Indiana (2-1, 0-1), which lost its only Big Ten game to date, 49-21, against Ohio State in its opener. The Hoosiers average 78 plays per game, and the Penn State defense will need to keep up.

Cabinda said the Lions have placed special focus on handling the tempo during practice this week, making it “tougher than it will be in the game.

“In terms of problems that come with that,” he said, “obviously it’s conditioning, having poise, being composed, getting the calls in quick and getting it communicated before they snap the ball. All those things are challenges that go along with that.”

Quarterback Richard Lagow passed for 292 yards in last year’s meeting. The Hoosiers led in the third quarter before Trace McSorley led a comeback in which the Lions went on a 31-7 run in the final 16 minutes on their way to a 45-31 victory.

The Nittany Lions saw a streak of 10 30-point games broken last week in their last-second 21-19 win over Iowa. They will look for a more productive performance against an Indiana defense that ranks last in the Big Ten against the run and 13th in total defense.

Indiana at Penn State

Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College

TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).

Records: Indiana, 2-1, 0-1 Big Ten. Penn State, 4-0, 1-0, ranked No. 4 in the AP poll.

Coaches: Indiana, Tom Allen (2-1 in 1st season at Indiana and overall). Penn State, James Franklin (29-15 in 4th season at Penn State, 53-30 overall).

History: Penn State leads, 19-1.

Last meeting: Penn State, 45-31, Nov. 12, 2016 at Bloomington, Ind.

Talking points

Coming off a career-high 211 yards rushing last week at Iowa, Saquon Barkley at least can be expected to top his ground output of 58 yards (in 33 carries) in the Nittany Lions’ 2016 meeting at Indiana.

Barkley again will get up close and personal with one of the best middle linebackers in the Big Ten. Last week, it was Iowa’s Josey Jewell, whom Barkley tackled on an interception return and blocked on a blitz pickup to help Trace McSorley throw the game-winning touchdown pass. This week, it’s Indiana’s Tegray Scales, the No. 4 tackler in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s defensive coaches, particularly line coach Sean Spencer, will be challenged to get fresh players on the field against the Hoosiers’ up-tempo offense. It will be interesting to see if officials step in on occasion to allow the substitutions.

The countdown continues for senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who is seven catches away from tying Deon Butler for the most career receptions (179) in program history.

Watch out for the Hoosiers’ J-Shun Harris II, who has returned a punt for a touchdown in each of the last two weeks and is third nationally at 26.1 yards per return. The Penn State punt-coverage team has been excellent, allowing 1.0 yard per return.

The Nittany Lions claimed a season-high five turnovers against Indiana last year. They lost the turnover battle, 2-1, to Iowa last week but still lead the Big Ten with a plus-6 turnover margin.