Penn State’s offense looking for more big plays vs Hoosiers
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — If the only way Penn State can move the ball is with big plays, so be it.
An all-or-nothing approach has paid off so far for the Nittany Lions who have just one touchdown drive over four minutes this season. All nine of Penn State’s touchdown drives of 50 yards or more have been aided by “explosive” plays — runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 yard or more — and coach James Franklin would like to see more of them against Indiana at Beaver Stadium.
Especially considering the Hoosiers are giving up over 502 yards per game and allowed 11 such plays — four for touchdowns — in a loss to No. 1 Ohio State last week.
“You talk about being more methodical, I think we have to do the opposite,” Franklin said. “I think we need to be more aggressive at times.”
When Penn State’s done so, it’s paid off.
Since John Donovan took over play calling last season, nearly all of the Nittany Lions’ offensive success has hinged on their ability to execute explosive plays. In 199 possessions since the start of last season, Penn State has scored just 26 touchdowns when the offense has had to drive more than 55 yards, with 35 explosive plays powering those drives. A slight majority of them have come when quarterback Christian Hackenberg has thrown downfield, something he hopes to do more of as sophomores Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin have emerged as strong deep threats.
“I think the potential we have as an offense to make big plays is extremely high,” Godwin said. “We have a ton of weapons.”
But they’re not taking up a ton of time, something the Hoosiers excel at.
Indiana is holding onto the ball for nearly five minutes longer than its opponents. Considering Penn State defenders said last week they were wearing down as Army racked up 31:19 of possession time, Penn State may have to find more balance to keep its defense rested if it can’t dictate the pace with explosive plays early.
“I think if we ask (defensive coordinator Bob Shoop), he’d love us to take a 13-play, 8-minute minute drive and score a touchdown,” Ricky Rahne, the team’s passing game coordinator, said. “But I think he’ll take the 80-yarder for a touchdown as well.”
BANGED UP BACKS: Both teams are dealing with injuries in their backfields. Although true freshman Saquon Barkley practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday, Franklin would not say for sure if he would play. Penn State’s Akeel Lynch (knee) is not expected to play and Indiana’s Jordan Howard is questionable with an ankle injury.
SUDFELD OR DIAMONT? The Nittany Lions prepared all week to face both pocket-passer Nate Sudfeld and running threat Zander Diamont with true freshman Tommy Stevens simulating both Hoosier quarterbacks on the scout team. Sudfeld picked Penn State apart for 321 yards in the Hoosiers only win two years ago.
HELP ON D: If practice reps were any indication, a few Penn State players will return on Saturday. Junior linebacker Brandon Bell and sophomore safety Marcus Allen both took first-team reps and would give Shoop’s unit, which has struggled to tackle in the second level without them, a boost.
RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY: Penn State’s playing surface, usually praised by the Nittany Lions and opponents alike as one of college football’s best, has been ravaged through four-straight home games — mostly because of heavy rains in three of those games. The field crew was busy last week against Army repairing divots through TV timeouts so a partly cloudy forecast with highs near 60 degrees will be welcomed.