Against a top ten team in the country, the Hoosiers held their own in a wire-to-wire game. The game proved to college football nation that the Hoosiers have something about their team that has staying power. While they have yet to defeat a ranked team this season, they have shown that their offense can compete among the best, and their defense can as well.

In this week’s game tape rewind, we take a look at Indiana’s ability to take advantage of the Penn State secondary, Indiana’s defense at the line of scrimmage, and gaps when defending against quarterback sneaks.

Taking advantage of Penn State’s Man-to-Man Coverage

Entering Saturday’s contest with the Nittany Lions, it seemed like Indiana’s receiver group of Whop Philyor, Nick Westbrook, Donavan Hale, and Ty Fryfogle could expose PSU’s secondary. Just the previous week, Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan completed 18-of-20 passes for 339 yards and 3 TD.

Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey topped that effort, putting up a career-high 371 yards through the air. A big reason for Ramsey’s success was rooted in Indiana’s receivers consistently beating man-to-man coverage.

During Indiana’s first drive, the Hoosiers faced a daunting 3rd-and-8 in front of a fired-up home crowd. IU OC Kalen DeBoer opted for an empty set, which allowed Ramsey to scan the entire field in front of him. Junior standout Ty Fryfogle ran a fly route up the sideline, beat CB Tariq Castro-Fields, and Ramsey found him with a gorgeous back shoulder throw. First down, Hoosiers.

It didn’t matter which Indiana receiver or PSU corner was involved; the Hoosiers won the man-to-man matchup frequently. Here, on another 3rd-and-long, Whop Philyor smoked fellow junior DB Lamont Wade, who slid down from his normal safety spot to play nickel. Watch how Philyor hits another gear once he gets inside Wade; that will intrigue NFL scouts when they look at his film. Frankly, Ramsey underthrows Philyor a tad on this play; a perfect pass would have resulted in six.

Not always did Indiana’s superiority in man-to-man matchups show up in passes down the field. On this unique look in the fourth quarter, after Philyor’s injury, the Hoosiers used freshman athlete David Ellis and senior Donavan Hale to gain a first down into the red zone. As Ramsey takes the snap, notice how Hale (#6) gets tracked by freshman DB Keaton Ellis (#2) across the entire field. Ellis has to work through a ton of traffic, and when he gets to Hale, his fatigue leads to a missed tackle.

Looking ahead to Michigan on Saturday, Wolverines DC Dom Brown loves putting his corners into similar man-to-man looks. Indiana will need their receivers to win frequently, just like they did in Happy Valley, to pull off the upset.

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Indiana’s defense at the line of scrimmage

The Hoosiers were by no means stellar on defense. Let’s get that cleared and out of the way.

But fortunately, with the offense moving at a reliable pace, Indiana’s defense really just has reduce the overall number of explosive plays. As long as they can create a few stops and give the offense some much-needed breathing room, the Hoosiers can likely compete with any team country that’s not in the Ohio State / LSU tier.

On Saturday, the Hoosier defense gave just that. They were not particularly flashy, but they kept the game competitive against a talented Penn State team, and there impact at the line of scrimmage was a big reason for that.

While sacks are great to have, the next best thing for a defense is to rush the quarterback into a throw that he makes off-balance or a throw that gets rushed. On the very first play of the game after the Hoosiers deferred the opening kickoff, Indiana does just that.

Reakwon Jones lines up as if he were matching up against the receiver, but instead he rushes Clifford. By design, Juwan Burgess picks up the coverage. Jones gets deep enough into Penn State territory to rush Clifford just enough to make a less than ideal throw, which Burgess protects without any issue. This play was made possible by Indiana’s masking of the defense, as well as their speed at the line of scrimmage.

In this next play, Micah McFadden blows right by the Penn State offensive line without being touched. McFadden’s last second approach to the line of scrimmage and a confused Nittany Lion lineman allowed him to get a direct target for one of three sacks on the day against Clifford.

The very next down, Penn State runs a fake swing pass option that is defended well by Allen Stallings. He does not overcommit to the backfield handoff, but instead uses his positioning and patience to deter Clifford from making the pass.

In the meantime, that hesitation from Penn State’s quarterback allowed McFadden to rush into the backfield with a lot of momentum, forcing another offbalance hurried through that is incomplete.

On this last defensive highlight, Indiana blitzes with seven, which allows Michael Ziemba to easily get past the right guard. Ziemba instinctively identifies the play on the ground and holds back Journey Brown enough for the rest of the team to help bring him down. The rest of Indiana’s defensive line does a great job of squeezing the pocket and closing all gaps.

Despite not being able to get the solo tackle for loss, Ziemba deters the running back enough to remove any additional forward progress, which leads to an important third down for the Hoosiers in the first quarter.

Sean Clifford earns important yards on the ground

Indiana’s defense limited Penn State to 179 passing yards, but it was quarterback Sean Clifford’s ability to make plays with his feet that kept the Nittany Lions offense on the field. Even though the numbers show 10 carries and 55 yards for the QB, that includes sacks and the related yardage. In reality, Clifford ran the ball seven times for 74 yards and two scores, with a long of 38 yards. However, it was the timing of his scrambles that put the Hoosier defense in a tough spot.

Here are a few of Clifford’s runs that led to big plays for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State’s second touchdown on the day came from Clifford’s 38-yard scramble late in the first quarter. The Nittany Lions line up in a trips formation to the left and a tight end on the backside. The Hoosiers respond with man coverage, and at the snap, linebacker Cam Jones blitzes and Micah McFadden is spying Clifford to prevent a long run.

Clifford steps up and sees open field because of the Indiana defenders being taken out of the play while guarding the receivers. McFadden has a one-on-one opportunity with Clifford, but loses his footing. With blockers leading the way, Clifford takes advantage of the slip-up and wins the foot race to the pylon.

On this 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter, Indiana’s defense has a chance to get off the field with a stop. They send five rushers to the backfield and the rush is picked up by Penn State’s offensive line. Clifford notices that the Hoosiers are in man coverage and takes off to the open field.

He gains eight yards on the play before he is touched and then falls forward after gaining the first down for additional yardage. Indiana’s defense is forced to stay on the field for another set of downs after they missed the opportunity for a key stop.

Just about midway through the fourth quarter, Indiana had another opportunity to force a crucial stop and get the ball back for their offense. Penn State lines up with two receivers on each side while their running back Journey Brown stays to block. The Hoosiers send six rushers after Clifford and Nittany Lions pick up the rush.

Clifford uses his legs once again to extend the play after he leaves the pocket. Indiana’s man coverage leads to running room for Clifford and he picks up a key first down to keep Penn State’s drive going. This drive finished after 18 plays with Penn State sealing the win on a Clifford sneak from the one-yard line.

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