Bill O’Brien is an offensive guy, known for working with quarterbacks and calling his own plays.
He often pushes the tempo and has brought a new, varied approach to Penn State’s plan and attack.
But he still isn’t doing anything like what they’re doing at Indiana.
And that’s mostly all anyone could talk about today during O’Brien’s weekly press conference. Question after question revolved around the Hoosiers’ prolific attack and the speed at which they run it.
The Nittany Lions open the Big Ten season on the road for the second-straight season, this time Saturday in Bloomington.
Indiana is scoring 44.5 points a game so far, second-best in the Big Ten. They are averaging 547 yards per game, tops in the league. And 349 of those yards are coming through the air, the best around by a longshot.
Here’s the kicker: They are last in the Big Ten in time of possession, holding the ball for only 25:48 per game.
But who cares? Not when flying up and down the field and scoring at the rate they do.
“Number one is to be able to handle their tempo,” O’Brien said. “(Head coach) Kevin Wilson has done a really good job from when he was at Oklahoma to now being at Indiana trying to run 90 to 100 plays a game. So you have to get lined up, communicate properly and handle the tempo …”
So Penn State’s key will be tackling well in space and eliminating big-gaining, “explosive plays,” O’Brien said. And that’s something the Nittany Lions struggled with during the loss to Central Florida three weeks ago.
The Lions also must keep a gauge on their own offensive tempo, O’Brien said. Repeatedly scoring too quickly could simply put his depth-challenged defenders back on the field too soon, eventually wearing them out.
So while it will be difficult for Penn State defenders, like rush-specialist Deion Barnes, to get to the quarterback, they must at least get their hands high into passing lanes.
The question for Indiana is will they be able to keep up this successful pace against improved competition? The Hoosiers best efforts may have been producing 42 points against Mid-American Conference Bowling Green and 28 in a loss to Missouri.
“They throw the ball to the slot receiver, the wide receiver, the backs, so they have some what I call really good “space” players, guys that can make plays with the ball in space, and that’s a tough offense to defend,” O’Brien said. “So the passing game is all predicated upon, in my opinion, having a good quarterback, a good play caller and a fast tempo offense.”
Indiana sophomore Nate Sudfield is second in the league with his 287 passing yards a game and 11 touchdowns to go with five interceptions. Right behind him is Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg, averaging 257 yards per game.
Plus, making the Hoosiers even tougher to defend is their ability to mix things up by utilizing running backs Tevin Coleman (96.5 rushing yards per game) and Stephen Houston. That’s what may set them apart from other fast-paced offenses.
“I believe Kevin (Wilson) does a good job of using the running backs and I would use ’em, too,” O’Brien said. “These guys are really good players and I think he does a good job of getting those guys out in space and creating “space” plays for them.”