Saturday's IU football game is a matchup between the haves and have-nots of the college football world.
No. 4 Penn State, led by an established quarterback-running back duo of juniors Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, looks poised for its first trip to the College Football Playoff.
Coach James Franklin's 29-15 record while in control of the Nittany Lions has brought stability to a program that was in desperate need of some when Franklin accepted the job in January 2014. Furthermore, Penn State has won 16 of its last 17 home games at Beaver Stadium, including its last 10.
The contrast with an IU football program under first-year head coach Tom Allen is stark. The Hoosiers still have question marks as to who the starters are at quarterback and running back.
IU also hasn't enjoyed a three-game winning streak since the start of the 2015 season.
These storylines could be reversed should IU, currently a 17.5-point underdog, emerge from University Park, Pennsylvania, with a victory.
"Tremendous challenge, and you know, they are hard to stop," Allen said. "You've got to slow them down and make them earn everything."
A primary challenge for IU will be slowing down Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate who averages nearly 130 yards per game through four games this season.
"Best running back in the country," IU running backs coach Mike Hart said. "He's an all-around back. He can catch it, he can block, he can run. He's special. Hopefully our defense does a great job."
The containment plan to limit Barkley will center around an opportunistic defense. Allen's defense picked up its first takeaways of the season during last Saturday's win against Georgia Southern. IU forced five fumbles and recovered three of them.
"We try to build on it and we want, again, three plus this game," senior defensive back Chase Dutra said.
Sophomore defensive back Andre Brown Jr. recorded IU's first defensive score of the season as well with a 22-yard fumble return touchdown in the game's closing minutes.
While Penn State is a step up in skill level compared to Georgia Southern, senior linebacker Tegray Scales said the Hoosier defense can take a lot from last year's performance against Penn State. The Hoosiers led the Nittany Lions 24-14 late in the third quarter before being outscored 31-7 to end the game.
"Just the way we were flying around, that's what you got to do against this team," Scales said. "Flying around to the ball and rallying tackling."
That game saw IU keep Barkley in check, as the then-sophomore recorded only 58 net yards rushing, although he did post two rushing touchdowns in the 45-31 Penn State victory.
This year, Scales and company are looking to repeat last year's effort against Barkley.
"If he breaks one tackle, somebody else has to be there," Scales said. "You can't just let him get his feet in the ground and make cuts."
IU's last visit to Penn State came during the 2015 season and resulted in a 29-7 defeat for the Hoosiers, a game where IU was outscored 22-0 after the first quarter.
Barkley didn't play in that 2015 game for Penn State, and the challenges he presents to IU means history won't dictate what happens Saturday afternoon.
"It's great that we had a great game last year, but obviously, in my opinion, it means nothing," Dutra said. "That's what they're preaching as well. He's gonna want to come back and get revenge and he's trying to have a Heisman-year, and we're trying to shut him down and we're gonna do that."
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