The goal all week was the stop No. 26.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley entered Memorial Stadium as the Big Ten’s leading rusher, averaging more than 5 yards per carry and more than 100 yards per game. He already surpassed 1,000 yards on the season and had 11 rushing touchdowns to his name.
So, the defense hit the film room.
“Coach talked about doing something extra. ‘What’s one thing you’re going to do extra?’ A lot of guys said they were going to watch extra film, get in some film,” sophomore defensive end Nile Sykes said. “So, as a D-line we know we got in there extra, on our day off actually, and we watched extra film.”
That extra work translated to 16 tackles for loss, the most by an IU team since 1998, and a season-low 58 yards on 33 carries for Barkley — 1.8 yards per rush.
He did find the end zone twice, but each time it came on the coattails of a passing attack captained by his quarterback, Trace McSorley. Take out Barkley’s long of 21 yards, and his average per carry drops to 1.1.
IU Coach Kevin Wilson points to defensive coordinator Tom Allen and defensive line coach Mark Hagen.
“Mark’s got some guys that are just playing hard,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if individually, collectively, if there’s one guy you say that guy is a difference maker, but they’re a difference as a group. They play with fire. They play with passion. They fight and scratch. It’s relentless in the way they play.”
Penn State Coach James Franklin said the last thing the team wanted to do with a young offensive line that starts two freshmen is abort the struggling run game and just air it out. He praised his offensive coordinator for continuing to mix the run with the pass.
The Nittany Lions stuck to their game plan, and so did the Hoosiers.
IU was aggressive, and overall held the Nittany Lions to just 77 yards on 45 attempts, an average of just 1.7 yards per carry.
Junior linebacker Tegray Scales, who led IU with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, saw the constant stifling was getting to Barkley.
“He ended up keeping his composure and kept playing,” Scales said. “But, just getting after him, you could tell the frustration.”
But while Penn State’s running game lagged, its defense forced five turnovers and passing attack found new life in the
The commitment to stopping the run game worked. Barkley and the rest of Penn State’s ground game was ineffective. But it left IU’s secondary susceptible to plays that picked apart man-to-man coverage.
Sykes said the defense gave up too many cheap plays and didn’t put together a whole game against Penn State.
It felt great, Sykes said, stopping the Big Ten’s leading rusher. Junior defensive lineman Greg Gooch said he had fun running around with his guys and aggressively attacking the Penn State offensive line.
But it wasn’t enough. When the defense needed fourth quarter stops to prop up the special teams and offensive units that combined for five turnovers, it
“I just wish we would have stopped them,” Sykes said.