History shows that if anything helps make a team feel better just before the holidays, it’s a meeting with the Indiana Hoosiers.
And that’s the way it should be again Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
No matter that this Indiana team has been a much more formidable force at times.
Their offense definitely is a dangerous thing, running plays (most of them passes) at a rapid pace.
Even the defense seemed to find itself a bit in the middle of the season.
That was until the roof caved in again last week. With a rare title game opportunity still in reach, they went about getting buried at home by about 50 points, giving up like 1,000 rushing yards.
Or maybe it just felt like it.
So will the Hoosiers pack it in, like in the past, or will they rebound and give Penn State a better fight than expected?
Here are five keys to a Nittany Lion victory:
1. Air defense. The key to the Hoosier productive offense (third-best in Big Ten scoring) is an array of short, quick pass plays, especially early in the game.
That’s what they use to set up more intermediate and deep strikes later.
So Penn State must receive an inspired, sideline-to-sideline effort from its linebackers and even its defensive backs pressing up early in pass coverage.
Disrupt the short, timing patters enough and the Hoosiers will be forced to do things they aren’t comfortable doing.
2. Neutralize those big DTs. Defensive tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black are a terrific combined force in pressuring quarterbacks and wrapping up ball carriers in the backfield.
Penn State’s offensive line must keep quarterback Matt McGloin’s jersey clean throughout. Because the best way to rip a suspect Hoosier defense is to dent it early with quick passes, which sets up the running game.
And if you set up the run game properly, you can cruise.
3. Eliminate special teams errors … again. One of the only ways Indiana stands a chance for four quarters is to make big plays in the kicking and return games.
Which means forcing Penn State errors. Or simply watching and benefiting from them.
The Lions’ special teams turned in possibly their best all-around effort last week at Nebraska, and need to do that again to make things easier on the offense and defense.
Focus again on kicker Sam Ficken and punter Alex Butterworth, who both seem to be gaining major confidence.
4. Look to McGloin. It’s easy to see how the Lions should ultimately succeed: They’ll be going against a defense that gives up an astounding 245 rushing yards per game.
But McGloin may need to be sharp throwing, especially early, to make that happen.
And he must not give the Hoosiers any game-changing possibilities.
Though he has thrown only four interceptions all season, two of them came deep in his own territory, both producing dramatic enemy touchdowns that turned momentum.
That means watch out for Indiana safeties Greg Heban and Mark Murphy. Just saying.
5. Play with focus. It’s worth repeating yet again: After everything this team has been through, it might be tempting to finally come out flat and even a bit disinterested.
Consider the early kickoff time and the expected spotty home crowd and no division title or bowl game to play for.
And a less-than-enticing opponent.
The seniors know this isn’t their last game. Next weekend is.
And yet the leaders need to turn that thinking around and help instill some kind of fire and anger.
Use that energy to win the battles up front early and let that tone set the rest of the afternoon.