Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PREVIEW: Oct. 1 at Indiana (posted 9.28.11)

PSU Football 2011 - Oct. 1 - Game 5 - Penn State (3-1) at Indiana (1-3)

The Lions embark on conference play in Bloomington, Ind. against the struggling Hoosiers. The Kevin Wilson Era is off to slow start, as IU has lost three close games to middling FBS teams (Ball State, Virginia and at North Texas - yes, a Big Ten school played at North Texas, not vice versa), and its lone win is over FCS school South Carolina State. First-year coach Wilson came from Oklahoma and is a long-time offensive coordinator, with nine seasons at OU preceded by three at Northwestern and seven at Miami (Ohio). Wilson already has generated some attention for his recruiting, nabbing a commitment from coveted in-state QB Gunner Kiel, but on the field the Hoosiers have struggled.

ON THE SCHNEID: Indiana is 0-14 all-time against Penn State. But several games`in recent years were very competitive. The famed 2004 game (22-18), with the legendary final-minute, goal-line stand by the PSU defense, catapulted the Lions from the depths of the Dark Era to a record of 63-20 since. The 2007 game (36-31) wasn't decided until a late fumble recovery. And last year's game (41-24) was tied at 24 entering the fourth quarter before the game turned PSU's way on a blocked punt. Departed IU WR Tandon Doss had 293 all-purpose yards vs. PSU last season, seventh-most in school history.

WELCOME BACK: Even though PSU and IU have played every season since 2007, this is the Lions' first trip back to Bloomington since then. The '08 and '09 games were in State College, and last season's game was played at the home of the Washington Redskins, FedEx Field, outside of D.C., at the mysterious request of the "home " team for the game, Indiana.

THE BIG GUY: In 2007, Indiana's 6-foot-7 receiver James Hardy gave PSU fits, particularly tormenting ex-Lions CB Justin King. IU has another big, talented WR in 6-foot-5 senior Damarlo Belcher, a preseason All-Big Ten selection after making 78 catches last season. But his status is uncertain after he didn't make the trip to the game at North Texas last week.

AREN'T WE LEGENDS? Former PSU WR Deon Butler once YouTube-famously exhorted his teammates pre-game by bellowing "We are legends!" Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany apparently disagrees. PSU was assigned to the Leaders Division, not the Legends Division, in the Big Ten's new really strangely named divisional structure. The additon of Nebraska created a 12-team Big Ten conference which led to the division split this season. So, this officially is PSU's first Leaders Division game in its history. The other "Leaders," who Penn State will play annually along with Indiana: Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

BY THE WAY: While we're on the topic of the new division alignments, PSU no longer is playing Michigan State every season. The Lions will play three teams from the Legends Division annually - Nebraska always, and two others on a rotating basis. In 2017 the Big Ten team will increase from eight to nine conference games annually.

ON THE SHELF: Backup RB Brandon Beachum is expected to be out one more game, so it's likely another opportunity for reserve RB Curtis Dukes to get a few carries. CB D'Anton Lynn might not play due to head and neck injuries sustained last week. Stephon Morris is most likely to replace him, though Derrick Thomas and true freshman Adrian Amos could get a shot.

THE RANKINGS: The Massey Rating college football comparison, which computes an average of dozens of polls and computer rankings, has PSU at No. 24 and IU at No. 107, which is six places below Minnesota for last in the Big Ten.

VEGAS SAYS: PSU is favored by 16.5. The over-under is 47, which means the projected final score is roughly 32-15.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It's another opportunity for Penn State to - finally, please! - establish a good offensive rhythm early in the game, as Indiana's defense is subpar, to put it kindly. The Hoosiers have allowed 21 points or more in every game against lame competition (though they did pitch a second-half shutout last week at North Texas). Last week, PSU backup (co-No. 1?) QB Matt McGloin diced up Eastern Michigan. The Lions will be looking to carry that momentum into this game. Can Penn State finally have a good, clean, solid offensive performance throughout?

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