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IU’s pass defense critical against Nittany Lions

A year ago, IU beat Penn State for the first time in program history.

In all previous meetings with the Nittany Lions, the Hoosiers were 0-16.

In a 2013 season in which the IU offense broke nine single-season records, including total yards, points, touchdowns, passing yards per game and rushing yards per game, IU’s defense played one of its best games of the year.

It allowed 24 points, the Hoosiers’ second-lowest total of the season. They gave up just 70 yards on the ground.

What IU lacked was an efficient pass defense. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw 55 times and had 340 yards through the air.

The Hoosiers (3-5 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) look to stop Hackenberg and one of the Big Ten’s best passing offenses at noon Saturday when Penn State (4-4, 1-4) comes to Memorial ?Stadium.

Through eight games, Hackenberg has thrown for more than 2,000 yards, completing 58 percent of ?his passes.

“What we have to do is we have to make him uncomfortable and make sure our coverage is good enough that he has to throw into tight windows,” IU cornerbacks Coach Brandon Shelby said. “When we have an opportunity to make a play, we make a play.”

Penn State’s passing offense ranks second in the Big Ten, averaging 261.9 yards per game. Those yards are in large part a result of how often the Nittany Lions rely on the pass.

They’ve gone to the air 331 times this season, more than any other team.

Of the offense’s 269 rushing attempts, Hackenberg has been the ball carrier 64 times.

Shelby said, compared to last week, they’ll see smaller receivers that are faster and a bit more athletic. But both the players and coaches know exactly what to expect.

“They are a throwing team,” IU defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said. “So we have to be able to pick our spots and put the right guys in position, whether it’s pressure or more four- or three-man rush ?opportunities.”

The Hoosiers are allowing 275 passing yards per game this season. Something the coaches have harped on in recent weeks is being able to create turnovers, giving the offense extra opportunities to score.

The IU defense has six interceptions this season, including two each from freshmen Chase Dutra and Tegray Scales.

Knorr said the 3-4 shouldn’t be new to his team anymore. They should be adjusted. With as many reps as the younger guys have gotten, they shouldn’t still be playing young.

“Teams that had success against Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota ended up scoring on defense, and that was something we thought we have to do,” Knorr said. “We need to be able to not have any mental mistakes or any busts this late in the season.”

Against Michigan last week, turnovers could’ve been the difference.

Michigan turned two IU fumbles into 14 points. IU’s offense then missed a potential 21-point swing in the game when it couldn’t turn a Chase Dutra interception into anything.

IU Coach Kevin Wilson said after the game that they let Devin Gardner get far too comfortable. They gave him too much time to make plays.

This week, the defense has little room for error. Without quarterback Nate Sudfeld, IU’s offense has passed for just 35 yards in the past two games and scored 27 points.

In those two games, the IU defense allowed 90 points.

“Are we getting better?” Knorr said. “You give up 34 points (last week), none of us are happy. None of us see that we are getting better. We need to have more continuity. We have to have more consistency.”

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