RELATED LINKS: Gameday Central I Game Notes I Depth Chart I Tuesday Presser Roundup I Wednesday Practice Report I J. Moorhead Q&A I Monday Notebook I Behind the Scenes: Generations of Greatness I Nittany Lions in the NFL - Week 3 I Gameday Promotions and Reminders
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 4 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) is set to return to Beaver Stadium Saturday, hosting Indiana (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) for its "Generations of Greatness" game.
Out to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2014 and the second time under the direction of head coach James Franklin, the Nittany Lions will look to extend their 10-game home winning streak, which is tied for the third-longest active streak in FBS.
Penn State brought fans to the edge of their seats last week, in a dramatic 21-19 road win at Iowa, on the strength of a spectacular game-winning final drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Trace McSorley to wide receiver Juwan Johnson to clinch the victory.
Once again, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was simply sensational in the win, racking up a school-record 358 all-purpose yards at Iowa, including a career-high 211 rushing yards.
Alongside Barkley, McSorley's touchdown pass to Johnson as time expired marked his 19th consecutive outing with a touchdown pass. On the year, McSorley's 10 touchdown passes are second in the Big Ten, helping to pace an offense that's averaging 40.5 points per game.
The Nittany Lions have hardly had time to exhale though, with Franklin targeting a variety of different areas where improvement is needed for the Nittany Lions to continue emerging from each passing week at 1-0.
Turning the focus toward Indiana, the Hoosiers travel to Happy Valley for their first Big Ten road outing of the year, with Nittany Lions owning an unblemished 9-0 mark against IU at home in Beaver Stadium.
"Obviously, Tom Allen is doing a great job there," Franklin said.0 Have a lot of respect for him and the Indiana program. Last year we battled with them and found a way to get a W."
What To Watch For -
1. Saquon Barkley doing
Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead called Barkley's performance at Iowa a microcosm of his unique skillset, from both running and catching the ball to pass protection. Outside of the career-high rushing performance, Barkley also totaled 94 receiving yards and 53 return yards. On the year, Barkley is ranked fourth in the Big Ten in both receptions per game (5.8) and receiving yards per game (83.8), with two receiving touchdowns on the year. All together, Barkley is still atop the FBS standings this week averaging 253.3 all-purpose yards per game.
"The kid has just done a fantastic job in his role, he has been a great teammate, a great leader and obviously when you have arguably the best player in the country on your team, you look to find ways to scheme to get him the ball because he's a game changer," Moorhead said.
2. O-Line Improvements
For Franklin, one of his takeaways headed into this week centered around the offensive line improving its ability to hold blocks, sustaining in the run game and of course, protecting McSorley. With a few different combinations to the starting lineup in the last two games, Franklin is confident that the Nittany Lions will continue to get better.
"I'd say probably about where we thought they were going to be, but I did think there's still a lot of room for growth and improvement there up front, and I think that's what we're going to need to happen in every area for us to continue playing and finding a way to get W's on Saturdays," Franklin said.
3. Dangerous Wideouts
Penn State's talented group of wide receivers will no doubt be an exciting matchup when it comes to the Indiana secondary. With a variety of options, it's hard to tell who might be stepping forward, even in a game-winning situation. Four different wide receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass on the year, and that's not even counting tight end Mike Gesicki's four touchdown grabs.
Although he didn't have a touchdown catch in the win against Iowa, Franklin was particularly pleased with Saeed Blacknall's 6-yard grab during the game-winning drive.
"You know, what a huge play in the game," Franklin said. "[Blacknall] Had not had a whole lot of action this year. You go to a veteran player at a critical time, makes the play. So that's a big one."
What To Watch For - Indiana
1. Hoosier Defense
Early this week, Franklin pointed to Allen's defensive mind, noting that among things IU prides itself, defense is atop the list.
Talented in a variety of areas, the Hoosiers return All-American linebacker Tegray Scales, who highlighted the season-opener with a game-high 12 tackles against No. 2 Ohio State. One of IU's team captains, Scales is atop the team standings averaging 8.7 tackles per game, including 5.7 solo stops, which is second in the Big Ten.
"I think his greatest strength is in the box, you know, getting the defensive line lined up, making adjustments and being a physical, downhill player from tackle-to-tackle," Franklin said. "I think probably the area that he's improved over the last couple years is outside of the box, you know, being able to make plays on the perimeter running from sideline-to-sideline."
2. Another Special Teams
On the year, Penn State has proved effective in neutralizing potential special teams threats, limiting the likes of Quadree Henderson, just to name a single example. For IU, J-Shun Harris II took a punt return back 70 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Southern. Marking his second consecutive with a punt return for a touchdown he become as one of just two in IU history to return a punt for a touchdown in back-to-back games.
"I think he is No. 1 in the Big Ten and maybe No. 2 in the country in punt returns," Franklin said. "So once again, we've got a special teams guy that's going to be a major factor that we have to deal with."
3. Leader of the
Indiana also returns veteran quarterback Richard Lagow, who the Nittany Lions have identified as a top priority in executing the Hoosier offense.
Leading an up-tempo offense that currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten in passing offense (267.3) and fifth in scoring (35.7), Lagow completed 40 passes in the season opener against Ohio State, finishing with 410 yards for his second career 400-yard game.
"Offensively, comes down to their quarterback, [Richard] Lagow, No. 21. Big, strong, can really throw the ball into tight windows, very accurate," Franklin said.
A top target for Lagow, is wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. A preseason All-Big Ten selection, he highlighted the IU season-opener against Ohio State with 11 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown, marking his fifth-career 100-yard game. Atop the team standings, Cobbs is ranked second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.0) and seventh in receiving yards per game (76.0).
"I think Simmie Cobbs is the difference-maker for them that they missed last year," Franklin said. "The plays they made against Ohio State were just fantastic, the two of them. The back-shoulder fades, the over-the-shoulder fade balls, making the catch on the sideline, contested catches, guys hanging all over him and coming down with circus catch after circus catch."
The Final Word -
Saturday marks Penn State's "Generations of Greatness" game, set to honor the pride and tradition of the rich Nittany Lion football history. With custom throwback uniforms as the centerpiece of the game, the new threads feature elements spanning generations of Nittany Lion history. Fans can also expect throwback changes to the Beaver Stadium end zones as well as game day elements from music to scoreboard design.