Lions return to road test in Hoosier state

Lions return to road test in Hoosier state

Five things to look for as Penn State plays what might be its toughest remaining test of the regular season today at Indiana.

No. 1: Road check

There are a lot of reasons to buy into this PSU team, coach James Franklin and his staff with the Nittany Lions riding a five-game winning streak and hoping to go 10-2. But one key area that remains a concern is playing a complete a game from start to finish on the road.

If Penn State doesn’t do that today, Indiana is good enough to win this game.

The Lions destroyed a lousy Purdue team, 62-24, in their last true road game, but that one was tied at 17 at the half. PSU was sluggish on both sides of the ball for good chunks of the half, but the opponent simply wasn’t good enough to make it matter.

Franklin said after the game he doesn’t want to be known as a second-half team, because he knows that eventually it will take four full quarters to win. Especially on the road.

We all know what happened to PSU on the road early at Pitt and Michigan, and while that seems like a eons ago, learning how to succeed away from home against decent competition remains a box that has yet to be checked.

No. 2: Secondary in spotlight

The Hoosiers, as everyone knows, will throw the ball a lot. The Lions’ secondary has played very well this season, but as is the case most years in the Big Ten, they’re not tested by a lot of good passing offenses.

Indiana averages 35 pass attempts and 21 completions per game, for 298 yards. Richard Lagow has thrown a lot of interceptions, though, with 13.

Grant Haley, John Reid and Marcus Allen are all having strong seasons for the Lions, and if the D-line can get pressure on Lagow, he’s prone to making mistakes.

The Hoosiers have three guys with at least 40 receptions — Mitchell Paige (43), Nick Westbrook (41) and Ricky Jones (40) — so PSU defenders will have to be prepared to cover the entire field.

No. 3: Pressure points

Penn State’s offense has been terrific at times, scoring quickly, utilizing a lot of weapons and getting balanced production from both Trace McSorley in the passing game and Saquon Barkley in the running game.

But as good as they’ve been in many situations, there also have been times when the offense has bogged down for long stretches and left a lot of points on the field. The third-down problems have been well chronicled, and that will be a focus again today.

If the Lions can get a couple of scores early and force Indiana to become one dimensional, it will play right into the hands of defensive coordinator Brent Pry to dial up a lot of blitzes while trusting his defensive backs in coverage.

No. 4: Red zone

Both of these offenses will move the ball, so it will come down to who’s better at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That should be a huge advantage to Penn State, which has a lot of high-quality options in Barkley, McSorley, Mike Gesicki and others.

Field goals will not win this game.

No. 5: Players to watch

PSU: Barkley has been so good of late that it’s tough not to pick him. But against this passing offense, the Lions’ secondary has to cover well and tackle well to prevent yards after the catch.

Indiana: Lagow would seem like the obvious choice. But running back Devine Redding has 793 yards rushing and will challenge the PSU defense. If the Lions can shut him down, it will put a lot of pressure on Lagow.

Prediction: PSU, 30-20.