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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, the Nittany Lions return to the field on Saturday to kickoff their 21st season in the Big Ten when they collide with Indiana (Noon on BTN).
Penn State (3-1) and Indiana (2-2) will meet for the 17th time when they faceoff inside Memorial Stadium. This marks the fourth-straight season that the Nittany Lions will open Big Ten play on the road. In head coach Bill O'Brien's first season, Penn State knocked off Illinois, 35-7, in the conference opener.
In their last outing, the Nittany Lions were fueled by 287 rushing yards and a dominant performance by the defense in a 34-0 shutout against Kent State. Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch ran for a season-high 123 yards and Zach Zwinak, who is tied for the NCAA lead in rushing touchdowns (8), visited the end zone three times in the victory. Penn State limited Kent State to just 190 offensive yards.
The Hoosiers also enter conference play following a bye week. Indiana fell to Missouri, 45-28, in its most recent outing on Sep. 21. The Hoosiers are paced by the Big Ten's second-highest scoring offense (44.5 ppg) and the conference's top passing offense (348.5 ypg).
Coaches from both teams will wear Coach to Cure MD patches to raise awareness for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy during Saturday's game. Fans are encouraged to donate online at www.CoachtoCureMD.org or donate $5 by texting CURE to 90999.
Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the first Big Ten game of the 2013 season.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Head coach Bill O'Brien knows that Indiana's offensive tempo factors into Penn State's gameplan. Because the Hoosiers like to run between 90 and 100 plays each game, O'Brien said this week that he does not want to put the Penn State defense in a bad position with quick offensive drives or three-and-outs for the Blue and White. Building off of the strong afternoon on the ground against Kent State, the Lions will be looking for another strong outing from the trio of Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. Penn State's ability to find success on the ground will create opportunities in the playaction game for Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lion receiving corps led by Allen Robinson, who enters the game with 26 receptions for 448 yards.
2. Led by quarterback Nate Sudfeld, Indiana boasts a high-powered passing offense looking to move the ball downfield as quickly as possible. The Hoosiers rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing offense, largely due to Sudfeld's ability to put the ball in places for the IU receivers to make plays in space. Therefore, Penn State's defense knows that it will be critical to tackle well in space. Specifically in the linebacker corps and secondary, the Nittany Lions will need a crisp afternoon of tackling against a potent passing attack that tries to mimic a fastbreak offense in basketball. Keeping Indiana's big-play opportunities to a minimum is key for the Nittany Lion defense.
3. In addition to tackling in open space on defense, Coach O'Brien noted in the Gameday Preview interview that tackling on kickoff coverage and punt coverage situations will be important against the Hoosiers. Indiana is No. 1 in the conference in punt return average with 22.5 yards per return. Receiver Shane Wynn has returned one punt for a score in 2013. Playing disciplined, consistent football in special teams is an area of emphasis for the Nittany Lions as they look for their fourth win in 2013.
What to Watch For - Indiana
1. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld has completed 65 percent of his passes with 1,146 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Hoosier offense features four receivers with at least 14 receptions through the first four games. The group is led by Cody Latimer, who has 19 catches for 346 yards and two scores this season. Latimer enters the game following back-to-back 100-yard outings. Sudfeld and the Hoosiers want to play fast to challenge the Penn State defense's conditioning level.
2. The Indiana defensive unit has allowed its opponents to rush for 247.8 yards per game this season. Slowing down Penn State's three-headed rushing attack is atop the gameplan on the defensive side of the ball. IU has yielded 5.1 yards per rush to its first four opponents. Linebacker David Cooper leads the Indiana defense with 33 tackles on the season.
3. Head coach Kevin Wilson wants to put points on the board as quickly as the offense can move. Through four games this season, Indiana has not had a scoring drive of longer than 3:53. Of Indiana's 27 scoring drives in 2013, 12 were completed in 1:10 or less. Additionally, nine of those drives were under 1:00. Watch for the Hoosiers to move from snap to snap at a pace the Nittany Lion defense said this week is quicker than any opponent Penn State will play all year.
The Final Word:
Ask anyone on the Nittany Lion roster and they will say that one of the biggest reasons they chose to play at Penn State is because they get to compete in the Big Ten. Big Ten football is rich in tradition, talented players and great coaches. Eight games remain on the 2013 schedule for the Nittany Lions, and they all feature a Big Ten foe. Opening conference play on the right foot is important for both teams as they return to action following a week off. A fast start in the first quarter on both sides of the ball and Penn State's ability to keep Indiana's offense from big plays will likely play a big role in the outcome of the game. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:01 p.m. in Memorial Stadium on what is forecasted to be a warm October afternoon.
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