Four games into Penn State's 2017 campaign, Sam Darnold's wizardry in the Rose Bowl seems like a distant memory.
The Nittany Lion secondary has adopted a more aggressive philosophy in the defensive backfield, and the contrast from a 2016 unit that gave up the fourth most passing yards among Big Ten teams is stark.
Penn State ranks 20th in the nation with an average of 158.5 passing yards allowed per game. Its six interceptions are just four shy of last season’s total in 10 fewer games.
However, the Nittany Lions have yet to be tested by a team with a prolific aerial attack. On Saturday, the pass heavy, dual-quarterback offensive system of the Indiana Hoosiers will help Penn State figure out just how good its secondary really is.
Corner Christian Campbell feels the Nittany Lion defense is up for the challenge.
“We play against a lot of running quarterbacks and also quarterbacks that can throw with good accuracy,” Campbell said. “So they have [Peyton Ramsey], he can run a lot. [Richard Lagow], he’s the good throwing quarterback. We’re used to both.”
Indiana was able to muster a solid offensive performance against the Nittany Lions last season in Bloomington. Lagow threw for 292 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and only a late comeback helped Penn State escape a potential upset.
Plus, in 6-foot-4 wide receiver Simmie Cobbs, the Hoosiers will have a talented wide receiver at their disposal who missed all of last season with an injury.
Campbell, who believes he will line up across from Cobb on Saturday, said Cobbs’ sheer size makes it hard to compare him to any other wide receiver he’s faced. He’s in for a new challenge.
“He’s a very talented player,” Campbell said. “He’s kind of a possession receiver. He’s a pretty good player, to me, and I’ve just been watching a lot of film on him and everything. I’ll be up for the challenge this week.”
Coach James Franklin said that matching up with Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles, who are both the same height as Cobbs, on a daily basis will help the defensive backs as they face someone of Cobbs’ physicality.
“I think those guys, having to defend those guys in practice all the time, I think helps,” Franklin said. “Does that mean that we are going to be completely prepared and ready for Simmie Cobbs? We’ll find out Saturday. But I do think the accumulated reps that our guys have gotten going against big receivers in practice through camp and through the season so far, I think helps.”
Compared to the methodical, run-based attacks employed by Pittsburgh and Iowa, Indiana’s fast paced style presents another different obstacle for Penn State to overcome on defense.
Echoing his confidence in relation to his matchup with Cobbs, Campbell believes the Nittany Lions are prepared to deal with the Hoosiers’ offensive pace.
“It’s all about reps, getting a lot of reps at the tempo speed,” he said. “We make practice harder than the game. We’ve been getting a lot of reps for tempo this week. We’ve been working on it.”