Penn State defense looking to slow down Indiana's fast-paced offense
STATE COLLEGE - Penn State's no-huddle look has been dubbed its "NASCAR" offense. Located just about 60 miles southwest of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana has an even quicker attack.
The Hoosiers (2-2) rank first in the Big Ten and eighth in the nation with 547.3 yards per game, and they tire defenses by running 76.5 plays per contest. Penn State's defense, which ranks second in the conference in scoring at 14.5 points per game, will be tasked with slowing Indiana on Saturday, and coach Bill O'Brien said bottling up the offense has a lot to do with making open-field stops.
"They get you into situations where you're going to have to make plays in space," O'Brien said. "So, handling the tempo and being able to tackle in space and not give up a ton of explosive plays is a big part of the game plan."
Tackling was an issue in Penn State's lone nonconference loss, as the team struggled to wrap up ballcarriers in a 34-31 defeat to Central Florida on Sept. 14. Junior Adrian Amos noted in order to keep Indiana in check in their conference opener, the Lions (3-1) will have to be in the right place on the field.
"That's the main thing, being in good position and making the tackle," the safety said. "There's no secret to it."
Though Indiana's numbers are inflated by a 73-point showing against FCS opponent Indiana State, when the team scores, it doesn't take long. None of the Hoosiers' 25 scoring drives in their first four games lasted longer than 4 minutes - the most time-consuming was a 3:53 series against Navy.
Indiana running back Tevin Coleman accounted for 386 yards and six scores on the ground, while tailback Stephen Houston has chipped in 196 yards (6.3 per carry). Cody Latimer and Shane Wynn both have at least 275 receiving yards, and are catching balls from quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
The conductor of Indiana's high-speed offensive train, Sudfeld has thrown for 1,146 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Indiana also occasionally uses quarterback Tre Roberson, who has 219 passing and 65 rushing yards this season, but Sudfeld will likely get the majority of snaps.
Quick passes were another thing that plagued Penn State against UCF, and senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said if linemen can't get to the quarterback, they'll try to change his throws in other ways.
"Indiana has a quick passing game, and we have to go out there and try to make plays, get our hands up, disrupt passes and stuff like that," Jones said.
While Indiana's offense ranks near the country's best in many offensive categories - including 11th in points per game (44.5) - the team's defense has surrendered more than 40 points in its pair of losses. The Hoosiers are next-to-last in the Big Ten in total defense, and in losses to Navy and Missouri they allowed a combined 86 points and 1,138 yards.
Led by quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a productive three-running back system, Penn State's offense posted 33.2 points and 461.2 yards per game in its nonconference schedule, and has ran a comparable number of plays (74.3 per game) to Indiana. Penn State often used its no-huddle look in the first month of the season, and had success with it.
However, if O'Brien wants to keep Indiana's offense on the sideline longer, he may pump the brakes on the NASCAR.
"If you watch us, and not that we're a great offense, don't get me wrong," O'Brien said, "but talking about tempo, you can see that we have different types of tempos, where we go really fast, medium-fast and sometimes we huddle up. I think that's really important. You have to gauge that during the game."
Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, is among candidates for the National Football Foundation's Scholar-Athlete Award. The fifth-year senior guard is also a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is presented to the nation's best football scholar-athlete.
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