Penn State's defense to be tested by Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow
UNIVERSITY PARK –– Saquon Barkley jumped to the top of nearly every Heisman watch list when he tallied 358 all-purpose yards in Penn State's 21-19 win over Iowa last weekend.
Now, after his team inched past the Hawkeyes on a last-second touchdown, Barkley will look to lead the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) to a win over Indiana on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Beaver Stadium.
Facing the Hoosiers (2-1, 0-1), however, is no small task for the Nittany Lions, even after coach James Franklin's squad escaped a night game at Kinnick Stadium unscathed. During Penn State's nine-game winning streak that propelled it to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth, Indiana was the team that gave the Nittany Lions their biggest test.
In that contest, the Hoosiers led at the start of the fourth quarter before Penn State's offense went to work. Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow picked apart the Nittany Lions' secondary, completing 23 of 40 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns.
Lagow, a 6-foot-6 senior, poses the same threat Saturday, and he'll have arguably his top weapon, Simmie Cobbs, back at receiver after a season-long injury in 2016.
“Offensively, comes down to their quarterback, Lagow,” Franklin said. “Big, strong, can really throw the ball into tight windows, very accurate. Simmie Cobbs, getting him back, obviously we all saw the Ohio State game to start the year and their chemistry and their connection together. That's going to be a challenge for us.”
Against the Buckeyes in Week 1, which the Hoosiers led at halftime before losing, Lagow and Cobbs connected 11 times for 149 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, Lagow completed 40 of his 65 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions' defense, though, has performed much better this year than it did in 2016. Through four games, coordinator Brent Pry's unit has the second-best scoring defense in FBS, giving up 8.3 points per game, including two shutouts.
The Nittany Lions lead the country in red zone defense, holding opponents to a touchdown and two field goals in six trips inside the 20. They also lead the FBS with 41 tackles for loss.
Part of the defense's success has come by forcing turnovers, which is something the unit worked on during the offseason. The Nittany Lions have forced 10 turnovers for an average of 2.5 per game. Last season, they totaled 21 turnovers, an average of 1.5 per game.
And the strong defense is helping the offense thrive as the Nittany Lions have scored 56 points off turnovers after their mark of 83 points off turnovers last season.
“We focused on (interceptions) during camp,” safety Troy Apke said. “During camp and during the first couple games, our biggest thing was to get at least three every practice.”
Matt Martell is a freelance writer.