Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum
Opponent: Penn State
Date/Time/TV: Oct. 2. Time and television to be announced
Location: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
2020 record/bowl result: 4-5 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten.
Returning Lettermen: 40 (19 offense, 18 defense, 3 special teams)
Lettermen Lost: 18 (10 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams)
Returning Starters, Offense (9): QB Sean Clifford, RB Devyn Ford, WR Jahan Dotson, WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith, WR Parker Washington, TE Brenton Strange, LT Rasheed Walker, LG Mike Miranda, RT Caedan Wallace.
Staters Lost, Offense (2): C Michal Menet, RG Will Fries.
Offensive Outlook: Penn State lost its best wide receiver to the NFL Draft in 2019 and KJ Hamler, then lost its top running back in Journey Brown, who left football due to a heart condition just before the 2020 season. Noah Cain, who stepped into Brown’s starting job at tailback, suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first series of the season against Indiana, and Penn State’s offense never fully recovered. They suffered a key loss at tight end in Pat Friermuth, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and also lost two starting offensive linemen, but they have depth back in the skill positions. Cain is battling with Devyn Ford and Keyvone Lee, who got the carries in his absence. Sean Clifford has proven athleticism and arm talent, and Jahon Dotson might be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. He finished third in the conference with 52 receptions last season and led the Big Ten in 884 yards and eight touchdowns. The Nittany Lions brought in Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator in hope of opening things up, which could make them even more dangerous.
Returning Starters, Defense (7): DT PJ Mustipher, OLB Jesse Luketa, MLB Ellis Brooks, OLB Brandon Smith, CB Keaton Ellis, CB Joey Porter Jr., S Jaquan Brisker.
Starters Lost, Defense (4): DE Jayson Oweh, DE Shaka Toney, DT Antonio Shelton, S Lamont Wade
Defensive Outlook: Penn State’s defense has in recent years been one of the most talented and the most stingy in the country, but the Nittany Lions were severely held back by the pandemic. Outside linebacker Micah Parson opted out for the season in 2020 after being named the Big Ten’s top linebacker, a first-team all-conference pick and consensus All-American in 2019. They still finished third in the Big Ten in total defense in 2020, but they were sixth in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 31 touchdowns, the fourth-highest total in the conference. They lost even more playmakers in the offseason in Oweh, Toney and Wade with Toney and Oweh combining for 14 tackles for loss and earning first-team All-Big Ten marks. However, they still return a talented linebacking corps and a play-making corner in Joey Porter Jr. and have reason to believe they could return to their standard.
Special Teams Returners (3): K Jake Pinegar, P Jordan Stout, LS Chris Stoll.
Special Teams Outlook: Indiana’s surprising (at the time) win over Penn State to start last season came in part because of two missed field goals by Pinegar and a last-ditch attempt by Stout from 57 yards. But Pinegar only missed two field goals the rest of the year and Stout averaged over 41 yards per punt. Also, Dotson returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year and Washington was solid as a punt returner.
Overall outlook: The Hoosiers’ thrilling victory over the Nittany Lions last season set the stage for everything that came after and the rematch could be just as important this time around. Penn State should be much closer to full strength and they’ll be playing in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd that will be loud and hostile after having to stay away for all of 2020. However, the Hoosiers still have the same ballhawking defense that intercepted Clifford twice last season and hit him several times. The Hoosiers still have Penix, and the Nittany LIons don’t have Toney, who sacked Penix twice in critical situations. Penn State will see Indiana coming this time for sure, but that doesn’t mean the Hoosiers can’t beat the Nittany Lions again.
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