Penn State Football avoided an upset against Indiana Saturday, but the post-first loss of the season hangover almost cost the Nittany Lions under James Franklin for the sixth time during his tenure in Happy Valley.
Instead, however, Penn State hangs on for a 9-point victory over the Hoosiers and heads to College Park to face a Maryland team coming off of three straight losses after starting the season 5-0.
Here are three things the Nittany Lions must fix before facing Maryland Saturday:
Fix Passing defense explosive plays
For only the second time this season (66-yard touchdown run against Delaware), Penn State’s defense allowed a touchdown over 20 yards, and the Nittany Lions’ defense uncharacteristically allowed three of them Saturday.
The first two long touchdowns that gave Indiana leads of 7-0 and 14-7, respectively, were coverage issues and miscommunication from the defense.
On Indiana’s second touchdown, both Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon and linebacker Curtis Jacobs blitzed on the play, leaving Indiana’s receiver wide open for a 69-yard touchdown.
While these uncharacteristic scores can be chalked up to miscommunication, whatever led to the miscues must be fixed before Penn State plays Maryland Saturday.
Despite the three game slide, Maryland’s passing offense ranks second in the Big Ten and could give Penn State headaches if the Nittany Lions’ miscommunication issues continue.
Passing game on the road
Penn State quarterback Drew Allar bounced back nicely from his first interception of the season (breaking his NCAA record streak of 311 pass attempts to start his career without an interception) by hitting KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 57-yard touchdown that would turn out to be the game winner.
However, before that last scoring drive, Allar had only passed for 142 yards in the game. Allar’s completion percentage was alright at 64.5 percent, however Allar’s completion percentage on the road has been horrendous this season.
With Harrison Wallace III potentially out again, Penn State must find a way to get the passing offense going on the road and get Allar comfortable early in the contest to avoid another slow start on offense on the road.
Penn State’s offensive line was billed as the best offensive line that Penn State would trot out in the James Franklin era.
Through 8 games this season, the offensive line has failed to live up to those lofty expectations. Now some of that has been due to injury, losing Landon Tengwall to medical retirement and JB Nelson for multiple games.
But, no matter the circumstances, Penn State’s offensive line must play better to give the offense a better chance of being successful.
Saturday, Penn State allowed three sacks and six tackles for a loss. On at least a handful of passing plays, including Allar’s interception, Allar is being hurried in the backfield before routes have even started to develop.
Penn State’s running game has also suffered from defenders hitting running backs in the backfield before the running back has a chance to find a hole and break to the second level.
If Penn State wants to salvage the season and push for double digit wins, and a possibility to play in the Big Ten championship, the College Football Playoff, or a New Years Six Bowl, Penn State’s offensive line must step up and assert more dominance at the line of scrimmage.
Penn State has one final test on the road before coming home with a much-anticipated meeting with No. 2 ranked Michigan. In order to avoid an upset and come home with the potential to reach all of Penn State’s season goals intact, Penn State must fix these three things.