STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State still has a path to the College Football Playoff, although the No. 9 Nittany Lions can’t afford another slipup.
Especially against a team they’ve historically beaten. However, this Indiana team is different, and the No. 24 Hoosiers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) are determined to show they belong.
The Hoosiers, who are bowl-eligible for the second time in coach Tom Allen’s tenure, earned their first AP Top 25 ranking since 1993 with their fourth-straight win last week.
“Doesn't really mean anything in regard to on the field,” Allen said. “You have to keep proving it.”
They'll have a shot at the Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-1), who look to bounce back from their first loss. Penn State dropped from fourth to ninth in the CFP rankings after losing at Minnesota.
Penn State coach James Franklin’s voice piqued at his weekly press conference when asked if his team’s confidence was shaken by the 31-26 loss in Minneapolis. The Nittany Lions played from behind all afternoon, turned the ball over three times and surrendered season highs in points (31) and yards (460).
“We're one of the best teams in the country,” Franklin said. “You know, probably doesn't feel that way around here right now, but we dealt with it. We handled it. I mean, obviously when you have success and you win, you're more confident and when you have setbacks and you lose, it challenges that. But we've got a resilient group of guys and a resilient coaching staff.”
EYES ON CLIFFORD
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has been trustworthy with the ball all season. But his three interceptions last week, including one in the end zone in the game’s waning moments, helped seal the loss.
He had taken a beating in the game, banging his throwing hand off a helmet early and suffering what appeared to be an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. But Clifford emerged from the sideline medical tent and started rallying his teammates on the sideline.
Franklin called it a “gutsy, gutsy performance” and said he expects the junior to bounce back against a Hoosier defense that’s been among the nation’s best. Indiana is allowing just 154 passing yards per game over their past four.
“I think he's probably -- although probably people don't want to admit this -- he's probably played better than anybody anticipated him coming into the year,” Franklin said. “I'm very proud of him. Very, very proud of him.”
ATTACK THE SECONDARY
Penn State’s proficiency stopping the run has forced opponents to often take to the air. The Hoosiers are prepared to do that with quarterback Peyton Ramsey and wideout Whop Philyor, who have developed strong chemistry.
Ramsey is completing 72% of his passes and most of them have gone to the speedy, shifty Philyor. His 59 catches this season have surpassed the 56 over his previous 18 games.
While Franklin contends that Penn State’s pass defense, ranked 10th in the Big Ten (allowing 225 yards per game) is better than the numbers indicate, the Nittany Lions still allowed Minnesota to connect on passing scores of 66, 38 and 21 yards.
The last time Indiana played a Top 10 team, it wasn’t pretty.
The Hoosiers were blown out 51-10 at home in the Big Ten opener against Ohio State.
“We ran into quite the buzz saw,” Allen said. “We chose to go back to work and get better. So now we have a chance to line up again against a team of that same caliber. We'll see where we are.”
Penn state defensive tackle Antonio Shelton and star linebacker Micah Parsons are expected to start after serving suspensions last week.
Shelton will return from his one-game ban for spitting at a Michigan State player. Parsons missed the opening series last week for what Franklin has called “behavior modification” but played most of the game.
Penn State hadn’t surrendered a first-quarter touchdown all season before the Golden Gophers scored two on their first two possessions.
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