Penn State was supposed to make its first road trip of the season this Saturday.
Originally it would’ve been a trip to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on Virginia Tech in a highly anticipated matchup.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State will not take the field alongside the Hokies as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” roars through the stadium.
Instead, in the Big Ten’s conference-only schedule, Penn State was destined to take a trip to Indiana in the second week of the season to take on the Hoosiers.
Here our football staffers gave their thoughts on what would’ve happened if the Nittany Lions took on Indiana on Saturday.
Who will score first and how?
On the road against an Indiana team that shouldn’t be taken lightly, Penn State will need to avoid a slow start.
And that’s exactly what the Nittany Lions will do.
On its opening drive of the game, Penn State will go on a 60-yard drive that is capped off by a Sean Clifford rushing touchdown to give the Nittany Lions an early 7-0 lead.
Last week’s game against Northwestern would have given Penn State a good idea of what it needs to get its offense going, and the Nittany Lions will come out strong with a long drive finished off by Journey Brown on a short carry into the end zone.
An impressive run back on the opening kickoff by Brown gets the Nittany Lions into Indiana territory, before he finishes off the job with an 8-yard TD run on first and goal to put Penn State up 7-0.
Penn State will get on the board first with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Noah Cain. The touchdown comes after both teams gridlock for multiple punts early, as both defenses are more than able to step up when needed.
But a late first-quarter drive by Clifford leads to Penn State’s first redzone visit of the game, and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca takes advantage — drawing up three rushing plays that eventually get the Nittany Lions on the board.
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Will Penn State struggle against an Indiana defense that returns 9 starters from 2019?
Indiana is coming off its first eight-win season in 26 years and returns a total of 17 starters from the team a year ago.
The Hoosiers would be no easy pushover in the Big Ten East this season and Penn State could have some early struggles against a very fast defense.
Ultimately, however, Penn State is just too talented on the offensive side of the ball and will be able to get its ground game going.
Penn State is going to lean heavily on the run game with its current offensive personnel, and if Indiana can slow down the likes of Brown and Cain, it could be a tough day for the Nittany Lions.
The last time Ciarrocca called plays against Indiana, Minnesota put up 31 points through three quarters.
Penn State will figure out the Indiana defense and hit its stride by the second quarter.
The Nittany Lions come out firing in the first half, but after Indiana makes some adjustments at the break, the Penn State offense comes out slow. This leads to a potential comeback bid from the Hoosiers, but ultimately the Nittany Lions score enough points to get the job done.
Slightly. A rough first quarter for both teams as they try to suppress early-season rust, but then Penn State gets the job done on both sides of the ball and uses its offensive weapons effectively to allow the defense to catch breathers on the sideline.
With five worthy rushers, the Nittany Lions seem to always have a pair of fresh legs to put out on the field if they need some quick offense.
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Will Penn State be leading at halftime?
Yes. Penn State will head into the break with a 24-10 lead over Indiana as Brent Pry’s defense will challenge Michael Penix Jr. in the first half with a diverse set of blitz packages.
Overall, it will be a fantastic start to the game for Penn State, and James Franklin will be pleased with how his team is performing 30 minutes in.
Yes. Penn State holds the lead, but not by much. Slowing down Penix Jr. will prove to be difficult and the Indiana offense trades blows to Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ offense.
Penn State leads 24-21 after 30 minutes.
Yes. They are up 21-6 heading into the half after Pry’s defense manages to “bend not break” at the end of the half with two long Hoosier possessions ending on field goals. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lion offense manages to find the end zone each time it's been in the red zone so far.
Yes, and it won’t be close. The Nittany Lions just have too much star-power on both sides of the ball for Indiana to keep up with in the first 30 minutes.
The Hoosiers will keep it close in the first quarter, but a big 15 minutes before the half for Clifford will give Penn State a 14-point advantage heading into the locker room.
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Who will step up for Penn State if the Nittany Lions need a big play?
Tariq Castro-Fields. Penn State’s defense will be faced with a tough task of slowing down a surprisingly potent Indiana offense, and without Micah Parsons on the defensive side of the ball, Castro-Fields will step up and make a big play.
Throughout the summer, Castro-Fields talked about his aspirations of being a first-round draft pick, and to do that he will have to become a true playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.
Sean Clifford is going to have to excel in this one for Penn State to come away with a win.
Indiana’s offense is going to put up a lot of points, but if Clifford proves to be the best quarterback on the field — with his legs or his arm — the Nittany Lions will be in good shape.
After Brown carries the load in the first half, sophomore running back Noah Cain helps drain the clock as the fourth quarter winds down. He preserves a one-score victory for Penn State while not letting Indiana get the ball back for a game winning drive. Although he may not have the best statline of the day, Cain is the one who is able to secure Penn State’s second win of the year.
Journey Brown. In his redshirt junior season, Brown is probably itching to increase his draft stock with a big year in 2020.
How does he do that? He needs to have an all-systems-go approach on every down, and if anyone can produce momentum-shifting plays — it’s him, a high school track star and Penn State’s No.1 offensive option.
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What will Penn State need to do in order to avoid an upset?
Penn State will need to start fast in order to avoid an upset in Bloomington. Indiana has defeated Penn State once in program history, back in 2014.
However, this is one of the strongest Indiana teams in recent memory, and the Hoosiers have enough talent to take down a sluggish Penn State team.
In order to avoid this, Penn State will need to get ahead early and kill any hope of an upset.
The passing game will be crucial for both the offense and defending it on the other side.
If Penn State has a one-dimensional offensive attack, things could get sticky, and this game is going to be a shootout.
If the defense can put enough pressure on Penix Jr. and contain him, then the Nittany Lions will come away with the win.
The team will need to manage the clock in the second half. This means running the football and getting easy completions to keep the time of possession on your side. With Brown, Cain and Devyn Ford in the backfield, it should be easy to keep them fresh — and although it may not be the most exciting brand of football, it will be imperative to rely on them for this matchup.
Lean heavily on the run game. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: Penn State’s running back room is the best in college football.
Having a transcendent athlete in Brown with guys like Cain, Ford and Holmes backing him up, the ball shouldn’t be in Clifford’s hands very often.
Benjamin Ferree: Penn State 38-30
Evan Patrick: Penn State 38-33
Justin Morganstein: Penn State 31-26
Andrew Porterfield: Penn State 35-23