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Associated Press
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg leads the best passing attack the Hoosiers have faced this season.

IU, Penn State stress defensive discipline

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien knows the pedigree of the offense Indiana’s Kevin Wilson will bring his way Saturday, when the Hoosiers (2-2) take on the Nittany Lions (3-1) at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.

Wilson knows O’Brien will bring much of the same, which is why both coaches have stressed the importance of defensive discipline ahead of the matchup.

“Kevin Wilson has done a really good job from when he was at Oklahoma to now being at Indiana trying to run 90 to 100 plays a game,” O’Brien said during his team news conference Tuesday. “You have to get lined up, communicate properly and handle the tempo, and then they have some really good skill players.”

For Penn State, discipline is important, but less difficult to come by. The Nittany Lions surrendered just 14.5 points per game in their nonconference slate while cracking the top 50 in passing yards (264.3) and rushing yards (197) allowed. Their offense generated an average of 33.3 points, good for No. 52 among 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Those pieces, while not spectacular, make up a whole that Wilson and his staff need to account for. The offense might be average, but it boasts the best passing quarterback IU has faced so far.

Christian Hackenberg is a freshman, but he doesn’t play like one.

“They understand how to take advantage of his strengths and not stress him out as much as a freshman: with protections and run game balance and screens and in their play calls and whatnot,” Wilson said. “They piece it together, and they got a bunch of nice pieces. They’ve got a young freshman quarterback that’s very, very talented, but with a big back and a running game, nice perimeter players, nice tight ends, solid line. Pretty good package offensively.”

Wilson sees similarities between the teams in that regard, with the variety of weapons both possess and the way the staff in Happy Valley orchestrates its offense. Against a defense that’s been as porous as the Hoosiers are, that might be more than enough.

IU is No. 97 in points allowed this year, with 32.8 per game. The Hoosiers are also in the bottom 25 in rushing yards (247.8) and, by extension, total defense (463.3 yards per game).

As the run game goes, IU goes. Wilson knows that regardless of how good his offense is, he needs the defense to improve and his team to have balance.

“The games we’ve struggled, it’s been our inability to run and stop the run,” he said. “With that, then, our opponents have been able to have kind of their way with us.”

This is a crucial game for the Hoosiers, and there would be no better time for IU to get its first win in program history against the Nittany Lions. The team is 0-16, and 0-6 at home, so far.

“They’re a complete team, and we’ll need to have, again, a very solid performance,” Wilson said. “If we’re one-dimensional, we’re going to struggle.”

smorrison@jg.net

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