UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Coach Bill O'Brien was more than pleased to hear last week that Penn State will have the scholarships gradually restored that the NCAA took away as part of its sanctions, but he prefers to discuss the team's next game, against Indiana.
He used Penn State's bye week to get in some extra preparation for an Indiana team that should be a good test for his defense. The Nittany Lions (3-1) will face the Hoosiers (2-2) at noon Saturday in Bloomington.
"They have two good running backs, a good quarterback that's playing well, a couple of good receivers, good tight ends," O'Brien said. "So they get you into situations where you're going to have to make plays in space, so handling the tempo and being able to tackle in space and not give up a ton of explosive plays is a big part of the game plan."
Penn State's defense gave up plenty of those big, explosive plays in its only loss of the season, a 34-31 defeat to Central Florida on Sept. 14. The Nittany Lions couldn't get any pressure on Knights quarterback Blake Bortles that day and aren't likely to get their hands on Indiana quarterback Nate Sudeld on many occasions, either, partly because of the way the Hoosiers' offense is designed.
"If it's a three-step drop, and the ball is coming out quick, some type of a slip screen and the ball is coming out quick, it's useless to try to keep fighting to get there or get a sack because you're not going to sack the guy you need to figure out ways to get into the passing lanes and block the ball," O'Brien said.
"At the end of the day, though, pass rush is about winning your one-on-one battle. So certain protection schemes involve what we call slide protections where you have double teams across the line, or at least two double teams, and then two guys that are singled, but they have to win their one-on-one battles. If you win the one-on-one battles consistently you're going to get a good pass rush."
Penn State will look to keep its freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, upright against an Indiana defense that has surrendered a lot of yardage but has piled up 10 sacks through four games. The Nittany Lions want to play their customary uptempo game but they'll also be careful not to leave their defense on the field too long against Kevin Wilson's offense, slowing down their own offensive pace if necessary.
"I think that's really important," O'Brien said. "You have to gauge that during the game, how is the game going? Again, you don't want to put your defense in bad situations where they've just been out there for a while and you go up-tempo, it's a 30-second drive, you're three and out, and your defense is right back out there."