Let me start by saying that I thought the Indiana defense played fairly well on Saturday. The lack of quarterback pressure might have been a more glaring error against an experienced quarterback, but the secondary coverage was solid as a result. The Hoosiers were also surprisingly stout against a Penn State run game that I figured would carry the offense all day.
Yes, the Indiana defense was surprisingly effective, but even more surprising was how not terrible Christian Hackenberg's stat line looks on Sunday morning. The Penn State true freshman quarterback (hey, the last time we tried that, it worked out great!) went 30-for-55 for 340 and three touchdowns, yet the whole game it seemed like he was staring down his primary target and whipping the ball into coverage. There were a couple of nice, accurate throws on outs and hitches (plus his beautiful pass on the second Allen Robinson score), but eventually Indiana's corners wised up and started breaking those plays up.
That makes for the most surprising stat of the game: Hackenberg's zero interceptions. There was too much holding off the ball and too many "holy crap how did that not get picked?" passes for Penn State to keep up with Nate Sudfeld, Cody Latimer, and the screen pass that defensive coordinator John Butler had apparently never seen before in his life. Indiana could have run a screen on every play and I don't think State would have ever been ready for it, and there are too many talented players on that defense for it to be gashed by one play over and over.
But this "article" is about Penn State's offense. Maybe the passing game could have been better if the team's halfbacks accumulated more than 3.7 yards per carry against a Hoosier defense that was just getting ripped to shreds on the ground this season. Kudos to IU, because I can't say that PSU should have ran the ball more when there were 30 halfback carries during the game and Hackenberg was stuck in 3rd-and-long too often.
By the way, can we change college football box scores for next season? Thanks to the negative 31-yard "rush" on Penn State's botched field goal attempt early in the game, I had to use an Excel spreadsheet to figure out what the Lions actually did in the running game.
Anyway, Hackenberg needs to start getting the ball out quicker and rotating through his options more efficiently. Either that or I'd like to see backup Tyler Ferguson get a real shot to see what he can do with the offense. There are enough flashes of brilliance from Hackenberg to make me confident in his future as a quarterback, but a change might be needed to ensure that Penn State wins as many games as possible this season.
Overreaction? Maybe, but if Michigan State's Connor Cook looks really good against the Hoosiers next week, it's not going to reflect well on Hackenberg. At least Robinson was able to return to the game after having his back slammed into the ground on a near-touchdown in the third quarter. Although he landed out-of-bounds on that play, it may have been Robinson's best catch of another spectacular Saturday performance. He's seriously amazing and is Penn State's most valuable player on either side of the ball.
Everyone else needs to improve, though, if the Lions are to reach .500 in conference play this season.
Also, congrats again to the Hoosiers. They played much better on defense than I thought they would, Latimer is a beast, and I'm not sure if anyone has heard this before, but that was Indiana's first ever win against Penn State. Do the Lions (and my ego) a favor and don't embarrass yourselves next week.