Penn State hopes to get back on the winning track this week against a team it has never lost to. We caught up with Zach Osterman, the beat writer for our Indiana sister site, InsideIndiana, to get a more thorough look at the Hoosier team that invades Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
This Indiana team has been more competitive in the Big Ten than many of its predecessors.
Lions247: What has made this Indiana team better than previous Hoosier squads? Is the overall talent level better, is the system giving opponents trouble or are these guys simply playing with more heart?
Zach Osterman: I think it's a blend of all three, but mostly belief in competitiveness. This group set about working to get more physically ready for Big Ten play than I think any IU team really had before last offseason. I know that sounds simplistic, but sometimes I think there were aspects of simple reality in the Big Ten that Indiana didn't really embrace, and that's changed. This team is incredibly young, but it is much more physically capable compared to its conference foes, and it expects competitiveness of itself every single week. That really can't be understated in its importance.
L247: What kind of response are you expecting from this team this week after it had won two straight games, then lost by 48 at home to Wisconsin last week?
Osterman: That's sort of the challenge, really. IU hadn't looked like old IU until last week. This team has done some really good things, taken some big steps forward this season compared to where the program has been in recent memory. Can it shake off one bad day as just one bad day, or will it let Wisconsin win two weeks in a row? I'm not saying Indiana can beat Penn State, just that they can stay with the Nits for at least awhile, so long as they can move on from last week (or really have moved on). Again, it sounds simplistic, but I think a lot of things are when you're trying to build a culture of expectation where one didn't exist before. The first steps have to be the most basic, and here's one more.
L247: Penn State could be in some trouble in the secondary if safety Malcolm Willis is limited or unable to go. Does Indiana typically attack teams with deep and intermediate passing or do they move the ball with short, quick routes?
Osterman: Both, actually. They use the short stuff, as well as the run when they can establish it, to set up the intermediate and deep shots. Indiana likes to use swing, slip and bubble screens to make things happen early in games, and if it can get into a nice rhythm from those, it will attack down the field. In particular, the Hoosiers like to send their big, athletic wideouts on post routes and cutting back in toward the middle of the field, so safety issues could be a problem, I think.
L247: Has Indiana been able to get most of its 24 sacks with just its front four or does it like to bring extra pressure?
Osterman: Front 4-5. It starts with three really solid senior defensive tackles in the middle, who control the line well when they're playing well and draw a lot of double teams and extra attention. Those three get good penetration, and when opponents double them up, guys get good match-ups on the outside. IU doesn't have any stud defensive ends, but they seem to have grown, as a group, into a bunch of guys who know how to capitalize on enough one-on-one situations. So yeah, most of the time, when IU has gotten pressure, it hasn't had to bring all kinds of blitzes to do it.
L247: What are two major things the Hoosiers need to do to pull an upset?
Osterman: There's one thing, to my mind, and it applies in two ways — tempo.
IU can't let Matt McGloin get into a good rhythm. The Hoosiers don't have shutdown players in their secondary, and in fact, they're quite young there. They need to get McGloin off center a little bit. Don't let him get into his second or third read, because I just don't think they're going to be able to cover guys very long in Penn State's timing-route system.
On the other hand, IU loves the heck out of its no-huddle approach, and when it's rolling, it's really impressive to watch, especially for an Indiana offense. When, however, it goes stale, it goes REALLY stale. IU needs to establish tempo and rhythm quickly on offense, whatever its playcalling approach, because the Hoosiers are going to need to put a serious dent in the scoreboard, I think, to win this game.
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