Penn State’s “NASCAR” offense was on full display against Kent State in week four, with most of the home team’s 89 offensive plays being snapped with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock.
But, as coach Bill O’Brien noted at his weekly press conference Tuesday, the Nittany Lions should expect to be in for a taste of their own medicine in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday afternoon.
The high-flying Hoosiers may present an even more fast-paced offensive attack than the Lions, and O’Brien expects Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and company to shoot for 90-plus plays in this week’s game. The Hoosiers, despite sitting at 2-2, have lit up the scoreboard so far this season, averaging 44.5 points and 547.2 yards per game.
O’Brien said the offensive strategy of the Hoosiers has taken off through nonconference play thanks in large part to freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who has thrown for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games.
However, the second-year Penn State coach also attributed much of the Hoosiers’ offensive success to Wilson’s NASCAR-style offense, which will require the Lions’ defense to maintain composure throughout.
“[Indiana’s offense] gets you into positions where you’re going to have to make plays in space,” O’Brien said. “And so, handling the tempo, being able to tackle in space and not giving up a lot of explosive plays is a big part of the gameplan.”
The Hoosiers are averaging 76.5 plays per game — 2.25 more than the Lions — leading some to wonder whether either coach will dial down the quicker paced playcalling to allow their defenses a chance to breathe.
O’Brien said keeping a gauge on his defense’s physical state throughout the game will likely require his offense to display its entire arsenal.
“If you watch us — not that we’re a great offense, don’t get me wrong — but you can see that we have different types of tempos where we go really fast, we go medium fast, and then sometimes we huddle up,” O’Brien said. “And I think that’s really important [against a fast-paced team like Indiana].”
Goodbye, bye week
Meanwhile, Penn State is coming off of its first of two bye weeks this season, and O’Brien said taking full advantage of these opportunities is crucial for reasons beyond regaining health.
O’Brien said, “a team’s identity is pretty much formed after the first four weeks,” so correcting poor tendencies was a main focus.
“Again, how productive was the bye week?” O’Brien said. “The proof is in the pudding on Saturday against Indiana.”
Hull in; Keiser out
Although O’Brien has mentioned the possibility of linebacker Mike Hull, who went down with a knee injury in the season opener, returning to the starting lineup earlier, it appears Saturday will finally be the day.
The redshirt junior was absent from the team’s injury report and O’Brien said barring a major setback this week, the linebacking corps will receive an added boost entering Big Ten play.
“He just brings a toughness to our football team. He got cut blocked against Syracuse — legally, it was a good block — and was injured on the play and he’s had a tough time coming back from it,” O’Brien said. “But, it looked to me as of yesterday, that he was moving around better and he feels better.”
However, O’Brien said safety and placeholder Ryan Keiser will not be in action Saturday, after suffering a hand injury against Kent State.
When the Brown graduate was asked whether he watched more of the Brown-Harvard football game or Ohio State-Wisconsin game Saturday night, O’Brien briefly took media members through a day in the life of a Division I coach on a bye weekend.
“I flicked back and forth,” O’Brien said of the two night games. “I was at a Little League game that lasted four hours in Lewistown [earlier to watch his son]. I mean, it was unbelievable. Then, I came home and LSU, Georgia was on. That was a great football game, one of the better games I’ve seen.”
John Stuez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.