- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Nittany Lions' defense will get another chance at showing UCF was just an aberration in their first real road test of the season. Here's what we'll be watching in Penn State's conference opener against Indiana:
Secondary issues a primary problem? It's difficult to pinpoint the identity of Penn State's defensive backs just yet. On one hand, the passing defense is ranked No. 23 in the nation. On the other hand, those numbers could be a bit misleading -- as UCF carved up the secondary to the tune of 288 yards and three touchdowns. Trevor Williams undoubtedly will be targeted in the early going, and Jordan Lucas will have to play strong for PSU to slow down Indiana's high-powered passing attack. A good game here shows that UCF was just a one-time mistake; a bad game shows PSU will struggle against a lot of their Big Ten opponents' passing games.
Keeping up the tempo: DT DaQuan Jones said this will be the fastest team, tempo-wise, that PSU faces all season. And with that comes quite a few challenges. Bill O'Brien said Thursday he has about 61 true scholarship players, and an up-tempo offense certainly could wear out a thin defense. Safety Ryan Keiser is out for the game, so the defensive backs won't be able to get much of a break. Glenn Carson and Jones also need to see as many snaps as possible, so it'll be an interesting balance to strike later today. O'Brien will adjust the tempo of his offense as needed because he doesn't want to cause a fatigued defense. And, with the way Indiana plays in space, PSU could be in trouble if tired defenders leads to sloppy tackling.
Mike Hull is finally back: The outside linebacker is a critical part to this defense, and he hasn't started a game since suffering an unspecified leg injury in the season opener against Syracuse. He played some against UCF but eventually was pulled; he just didn't seem like the same linebacker. O'Brien rested him against Kent State but said he'll start against Indiana. Hull is a great coverage linebacker who can make sure guys liked TE Ted Bolser don't run all over the defense. And his addition allows Nyeem Wartman and/or Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to grab a breather when needed. He's one of the most important players on this defense, and his health is paramount to Penn State.
Indiana 0-16 vs. PSU: If you haven't yet heard these numbers this week, then you just haven't been paying attention. Since 1993, Indiana has played Penn State a total of 16 times -- and has beaten PSU a grand total of ... zero times. The Hoosiers have come close on six occasions, losing by just one score, but the Lions always have come out on top. If Indiana is going to break the trend in the next five years, this certainly seems its best chance to do it. The Hoosiers returned most of their starters from last season, while PSU is dealing with a shallow roster, first-year starting corners and a true freshman quarterback. Christian Hackenberg will only get better, O'Brien will have more scholarships to work with in future years and, put simply, PSU likely will improve at a faster pace than Indiana. It might be now or never for the Hoosiers.
Running wild: Indiana's strength last season was the interior of its defense. Well, with the graduation of Larry Black and Adam Replogle, that's not the case anymore. The Hoosiers are giving up nearly 250 rushing yards a game, which should provide fertile ground for Penn State's three-headed running attack. Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch have taken steps forward each week -- and this should prove no exception. Belton and Lynch can give PSU a home-run threat, while Zwinak can pound that interior. Indiana's defense could be in for a long day against those three.