Indiana football returns from its bye week facing a tough test.
The Hoosiers host No. 15 Penn State Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and will air on ABC.
Indiana (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) is on a five-game losing streak, and could be switching quarterbacks. Head coach Tom Allen has been noncommittal about who his starting signal-caller will be. Junior Connor Bazelak edged out senior Jack Tuttle in a tight battle in preseason camp, and sophomore Dexter Williams II provides some intrigue as a more mobile option.
“We will move forward with that position. I guess we’ll have to see how that plays itself out when it comes to game day,” Allen said. “You’ll have to wait until Saturday to see who our starting quarterback is going to be.”
On Thursday, Allen updated that the staff has collectively made a decision for who will start, but wouldn’t reveal what that decision was.
IU isn’t the only team with a quarterback dilemma. Penn State (6-2, 3-2) is in a similar circumstance with senior Sean Clifford and freshman Drew Allar. Clifford has had a tumultuous season for the Nittany Lions, and his four turnovers against Ohio State last week did nothing to quell concerns about how far he could take the team.
This isn’t the first time PSU head coach James Franklin has been asked about Clifford’s viability as starting quarterback, but this was, perhaps, the most coy he’s been about the subject.
“We’ll continue to evaluate it like we always do,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “We’re going to look at who gives us the best chance to be 1-0 this week and go from there. And whoever that is based on this week’s practice and preparation, we’ll go with. That’s really kind of how it’s been all year long.”
Quarterback drama aside, Indiana is in for a big challenge. IU has to try and reverse its offensive fortunes against a top-40 scoring defense with more talent than some of its season-long numbers reflect.
And even so, PSU has solid numbers. The Nittany Lions are tied for 31st in the country and fourth in the Big Ten with 14 takeaways. PSU opponents have converted just 33.6 percent on third downs (33rd in the nation, eighth in the conference), and PSU’s defense holds opponents to a 76.7 score rate in the red zone (24th in the country, fourth in the Big Ten).
Allen knows his offense needs to find a way to perform better. And they’ll have to do that without standout receiver Cam Camper, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL.
“They’re going to do a lot of things, defensively, that can create challenges, without question,” Allen said. “The bottom line is, we need to stay on the field. Third downs are going to be huge. Winning first down is probably the priority, to be able to create those third-and-manageables that we need to have to stay out of those third-and-longs.”
On the other side, Penn State has offensive weapons no matter what route Franklin takes at quarterback. Sophomore wide receiver Parker Washington is 65th in the country and sixth in the Big Ten with 70.9 receiving yards per game. He’s coming off, by far, his biggest game of the season, with 11 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State. He’s scored in each of PSU’s last two games.
The Nittany Lions primarily utilize two freshmen in the backfield. Nicholas Singleton is the lead back, with 75.8 yards per game and seven touchdowns. Kaytron Allen adds 59 yards per game and five scores.
Franklin knows Allen emphasizes stopping the run, defensively, and said IU’s defense could pose some challenges.
“He’s going to use as many resources as he has to to stop the run. He’s committed to doing it and making you one-dimensional,” Franklin said. “And then they probably have a little bit more diversity coverage-wise through scheme to try to make up for the commitment that they’re make to go stop the run, to try to force you into some bad decisions through scheme.”
IU is honoring the 2007 Insight Bowl team at halftime on Saturday, with Bill Lynch and Jane Hoeppner among those set to be in attendance. Program alums Jason Spriggs, Micah McFadden, and Peyton Hendershot will also be at the game.
The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory ahead of the game, in effect from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. The teams could have to play through wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour.
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