Hoosiers pick up signature win
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - What Indiana did to Penn State wasn't a fluke. The Hoosiers won in every facet of the game, from controlling the line of scrimmage on offense and defense, to special teams to coaching.
The Hoosiers earned, in every way, their first victory against the Nittany Lions in 17 tries.
"I'm proud of our guys, and I'm happy for them," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "I'm happy for the people who stuck with us and for us to get a good win. We played really good in a lot of phases."
The Hoosiers are known for the fast-paced offense, and that was on display. But they aren't known for the type of run defense they played against PSU.
"It all started with our D-line," safety Greg Heban said. "They did a great job getting pressure on their O-line. They dominated the line of scrimmage, which was one of the key points we focused on."
Nate Sudfeld completed 23-of-38 passes for 321 yards, two TDs and an interception for the Hoosiers. Backup quarterback Tre Roberson also had an impact with a rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion.
Penn State had no answer for the Hoosiers through the air or on the ground. Cody Latimer caught nine passes for 140 yards, and Tevin Coleman rushed for 92 of his team's 150 yards, including a 44-yard score on which he busted through the middle and went untouched.
"Coach didn't want us to focus on the history of this game," Sudfeld said of the first win against PSU. "Coach always said, 'This 2013 Indiana team has never lost to this 2013 Penn State team.'"
Hackenberg, offense regressing
Christian Hackenberg struggled for the second consecutive game as he was completing less than 50 percent of his throws for much of the day before finishing 30-of-55. He threw for a career-high 340 yards and three TDs without being intercepted, but all of his numbers were misleading since the offense couldn't come up with the big plays it needed all day long.
"When you're 18, I think it's hard," O'Brien said of his freshman quarterback. "Everything that he's seeing, he's seeing for the first time."
Hackenberg was just 13-of-35 the last game against Kent State. Asked if he thinks he's regressed the past two games, he said, "I don't think so. I guess we have to go to the film room and see, but I wouldn't say either way.
"I just try and get better every day, try and do what I'm told to do on each play and really just manage the game," the quarterback added. "So I guess I'm just really feeling more comfortable."
Allen Robinson had another monster day with 12 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. But outside of him, PSU's receiving targets were largely held in check. Penn State was playing without receiver Brandon Felder, a valuable possession target who missed the game with an ankle injury.
"I feel like we moved the ball, but we really just sometimes didn't finish drives," Hackenberg said.
Inside the rushing numbers
Penn State finished with 70 yards net rushing, but Zach Zwinak averaged 4.2 yards per carry on his 17 attempts. The problem was he only carried 17 times as O'Brien continued his running back rotation of Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch.
Zwinak is built to carry the ball 28-30 times a game, but O'Brien didn't go that route with his playcalling. Instead, he continued to have Hackenberg throw the ball, even though he wasn't having an efficient day.
Part of the team's low rushing total was because of a 31-yard loss on a bad snap on a field-goal attempt, and because Hackenberg lost 19 yards on the ground. So on 31 designed rushing plays, the Lions actually averaged 3.9 yards. Belton averaged 3.1 yards on 10 carries and Lynch 2.3 yards on only three.
Scholarships no excuse
O'Brien has said a couple of times the team is competing with 61 scholarship players, which is probably true from the standpoint of that's how many scholarship recruits are on the squad. There are additional walk-ons who have been given scholarships, so the number is more like 66.
Whatever the number, the coach pointed out, "I don't think in any stretch of anybody's imagination that this is a normal Penn State team; 61 kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons. But you know what, these kids are practicing hard. We've got to coach them better."
No one in the Penn State camp is using the 61 scholarship aspect as an excuse for the loss.
"That's not an excuse," guard John Urschel said. "Indiana outperformed us today, irrespective of scholarships."
Second-guessing FG decision
O'Brien decided not to try a 43-yard field goal on the game's opening possession, instead going for it unsuccessfully on fourth-and-5 from the 26. The coach said he didn't think field goals would be enough to win the game, but afterward he second-guessed his decision.
"Hindsight being 20-20, probably should have kicked it there," he said.
It was a rough day for the field-goal unit. Snapper Ty Howle had a low snap when Sam Ficken was to try a 31-yard attempt in the first quarter, and the ball skipped past holder Alex Butterworth for a 31-yard loss.
Ficken later missed a 42-yard try in the second quarter, but PSU had called a timeout just before the kick. When he tried again, he kicked it low and had it blocked.
Robinson went down hard on his back and was tended to on the field for a couple of minutes, but he returned on PSU's next series. O'Brien and the players said they did not believe that play - which was nearly a touchdown - was an emotional turning point in the game. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong started at LB in place of Nyeem Wartman, who's nursing a shoulder injury. Freshman Zach Ladonis, who made the team at a tryout, was on the trip as a snapper.