The schedule had set up this weekend’s Indiana/Penn State tilt as a classic “look ahead” trap game.
With the Nittany Lions in the College Football Playoff going into this past weekend, only a couple traditional Big Ten doormats stood between them and an epic showdown with Ohio State on Nov. 23.
But with Indiana and Minnesota both in the top 25, at least some traditions have been turned upside down in 2019.
The Golden Gophers (9-0) are now a somewhat startling No. 7 in the country and fully in control of their own destiny as it relates to the College Football Playoff.
No one saw this run coming for Minnesota going into the season, and few predicted their 31-26 upset of Penn State on Saturday. With that loss, PSU’s season has taken on an entirely different look, and Saturday’s game against IU — has an entirely different feel.
While the Nittany Lions (8-1) could have been entering this Saturday’s Noon EST kickoff (ABC) against Indiana carrying the risk of looking ahead to their showdown with the No. 2 Buckeyes, there is no such risk now.
Fully alert, and fully aware, Indiana is going to get an angry and focused Penn State on Saturday, supported by more than 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania.
With Ohio State still on the schedule, and a rematch with Minnesota still possible in the Big Ten title game, the Nittany Lions (No. 9 / 11) still have a backdoor path to the Playoff.
But now with no margin for error, and still stinging from the disappointment in Minnesota, there is no chance of Penn State looking past No. 24/25 IU.
On Saturday, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin was already using the crushing loss as a chance to refocus and spark a big response this week against Indiana.
“I did tell them that everything in life is a learning opportunity, and to take a minute and allow — take a deep breath, but allow this feeling. Have the feeling. Don’t block it, Penn State coach James Franklin said after the loss to Minnesota.
“And everything can be used for fuel. I think we work really hard. I think we prepare extremely well. But we can get better. There’s no doubt about it. That’s all of us. That’s everybody. And we need to use this emotion and this feeling as fuel moving forward.”
Looking ahead, the game will be a major test for IU’s No. 34 ranked offense. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has the Hoosiers firing on all cylinders, but Saturday will be a “next level” kind of test — at least on paper.
Penn State entered Saturday’s game against Minnesota with the No. 9 ranked defense, but left Minneapolis potentially exposed. The Gophers threw for 339 yards and ran for another 122 in the win.
No longer facing uncertainty at the quarterback position with redshirt freshman Michael Penix out of the season, DeBoer has had plenty of time to get starter Peyton Ramsey ready as the Hoosiers come off of a bye week.
Of course Ramsey has played plenty this year with Penix in and out of the lineup, and the Ohio native has played well. But the big question is how he will perform against an elite level defense.
The Hoosiers (7-2) have only faced two top-25 defenses all year — Michigan State and Ohio State. Penix started against the Spartans and put together a top shelf effort. Meanwhile Ramsey struggled to get anything going against a Buckeye defense that was in his face all day long.
Interestingly, it was against Penn State last year in Bloomington that Ramsey was replaced before a knee injury ended Penix’s season. In total, Ramsey put together a respectable performance in that game against the Nittany Lions, going 26-for-36 for 236 yards along with a touchdown and an interception.
Ramsey will need to be more than just respectable this weekend, and he has flashed the ability to be really good including on the road where he led the Hoosiers to wins at Maryland and Nebraska.
Ramsey has taken a major step forward in 2019, putting together a very impressive stat line working in DeBoer’s system. Indiana’s all-time completion percentage leader is 113-of-157 (72 percent) through the air for 1,302 yards along with 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Ramsey has added another 122 net yards and a score on the ground.
But Ramsey will face the best defense he has seen in two months on Saturday.
Wounded and angry, Penn State will be fully ready for Ramsey and the Hoosiers.
And at this point, there is no reason to believe that head coach Tom Allen and his emerging squad won’t be equally prepared for the challenge.
(Note: The Hoosiers are around a 14-point underdog against Penn State.)
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