PSU defense will get few breathers against high-paced Hoosiers
Penn State's opponents have averaged 65.5 offensive snaps per game this season.
If the Nittany Lions aren't equipped to handle Indiana's attack Saturday, the Hoosiers could be approaching that number by halftime.
“(Indiana) is trying to run 90-100 plays a game,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.
Lions players have repeatedly said they're in excellent shape this season after enduring the offseason program of strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. For the depth-challenged defense, their endurance will be put to the test against an Indiana offense that pushes the pace.
The Hoosiers (2-2) can score quickly — they are averaging 1 minute, 48 seconds of possession time on their 25 scoring drives this season (24 touchdowns, one field goal). Excluding a 41-35 loss to Navy on Sept. 7, Indiana has averaged covering 57.9 yards in 90 seconds during its 20 drives that resulted in points over three games.
“It's the fastest team we're going to face this year,” Lions defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “You look at their speed together with that fast tempo, it's definitely going to be a challenge.”
O'Brien often puts Penn State (3-1) into a no-huddle, quick-paced offense he refers to as “NASCAR.” But if the Lions are driving stock cars, the Hoosiers are behind the wheel of drag racers. Heading into the Big Ten opener for both teams at noon Saturday, the host Hoosiers are averaging a play every 20.2 seconds.
“They play very fast, and they try to get lot of plays off over the course of the game,” Penn State safety Adrian Amos said. “They do a lot of things that make you have to react quickly.”
Facing such an offense can be difficult on defensive backs, but it can be especially taxing on defensive linemen. In addition to getting winded, pass-rushers must deal with the frustration of pursuing a quarterback that is next to impossible to sack when he's utilizing three-step drops and getting rid of the ball before even the most effective of pressure can reach him.
“We've got to go out there and try to make plays in other ways,” Jones said. “Get our hands up, disrupt passing lanes, do things like that if we can't get to the quarterback.”
Indiana is allowing only 1.3 sacks per game despite ranking second in the Big Ten in passing attempts per game.
It's possible by the end of Saturday's game, Indiana will have three players that have 100 career receptions — junior Shane Wynn (101 catches), senior Kofi Hughes (99) and senior tight end Ted Bolser (96). Junior Cody Latimer (82) and senior Duwyce Wilson (77) could hit triple-digit career receptions by the end of the season.
The Lions rank third in the Big Ten and 21st nationally in pass defense at 183.2 yards per game. But that number can be misleading because they faced a combination of inexperience at quarterback and/or poor offensive teams during their three wins. In Penn State's lone loss, it allowed Central Florida's Blake Bortles 288 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
“When you know Indiana's the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten, that raises a lot of eyebrows,” sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “This week, we just have to prove we can stop the pass, and when they get the ball out in space, we have to bring them down.”