UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The subject was music, but Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald quickly transitioned the conversation to an all-encompassing thought about his football team, describing the effects of coach Kevin Wilson on the program.
"There were a lot of things we didn't do before coach Wilson came," Ewald said.
Consider that an unofficial motto for this group of Hoosiers. Ewald made that comment this summer at the Big Ten media days, the same place where Indiana wide receiver Kofi Hughes said practice under the old regime wasn't much of a challenge for him due to the lack of talent on the roster. The point of these comments is that the Hoosiers believe they have come a long way. They want to prove, starting with Penn State in Big Ten play Saturday, that they have crawled out of irrelevance.
Penn State (3-1) vs. Indiana (2-2), noon today, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind., Nittany Lions favored by 31/2.
- TV, Radio, Internet:
Big Ten Network; KQV-AM (1410) and Penn State Sports Network; www.Go-PSUsports.com.
- Penn State:
Wide receiver Brandon Felder had 12 receptions in the first two games. In the past two, he has four. ... Trailed Indiana, 10-7, early last year before pulling away for a 45-22 victory. ... Three of the five leading tacklers play in the secondary -- Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Malcolm Willis and Trevor Williams.
Has five players with 150 or more receiving yards. Penn State has one (Allen Robinson). ... Allows an average of 247.8 rushing yards per game. Eastern Michigan is the only Division I-A team that allows more. ... Cornerback Tim Bennett leads Division I-A in pass breakups with 10.
- Hidden stat:
Penn State is outscoring opponents by an average of 5.25 to 3.5 in the first quarter. Last year it outscored opponents by an average of 8.08 to 1.7.
The betting line for the game alone illustrates a new outlook for Indiana. Penn State is favored by 31/2 points. Essentially since the dawn of this matchup, the spread has rarely been in single digits, and Indiana has never defeated Penn State in 16 attempts.
As Ewald mentioned, much of the credit for the belief in a better Indiana goes to Wilson. He's in his third year as head coach after spending most of the previous decade as an assistant at Oklahoma. There he developed the reputation for being one of the most forward-thinking offensive minds in the game.
He has also attracted attention for his fiery pro-Indiana attitude. Before his first season in 2011, Wilson went on a tirade against two radio hosts he believed insulted Indiana's football status in the moments before he was put on air.
Thing is, so much of the increased praise given to Indiana is based on Wilson's potential. Indiana may be doing things it didn't do before Wilson, but the Hoosiers have proven little. They lost every Big Ten game in Wilson's first season and won two last year, though those back-to-back conference victories were the first time Indiana had that since 2007.
This year, Indiana has lost to Navy (by six), Missouri (by 17) and defeated Indiana State and Bowling Green. It is averaging 547 yards per game, including 348 through the air. This production is perhaps a sign of the much-awaited improvement -- last year, the Hoosiers averaged 442 yards per game.
The offense could spell trouble for Penn State. In its first true test against a formidable passing offense in the Central Florida game, the Penn State defense allowed 288 passing yards and quarterback Blake Bortles completed 20 of 27 passes. Coach Bill O'Brien and his players said Indiana's offense and its pace will be a challenge.
"They get you into situations where you're going to have to make plays in space, so handling the tempo and being able to tackle in space and not give up a ton of explosive plays is a big part of the game plan," O'Brien said.
At his news conference this week, Wilson spoke highly of Penn State's offense and particularly how well his team would have to play to stop the Nittany Lions running backs. It was brought up that confidence is needed to gain confidence, and then victories. He said this game isn't about trying to do something the Hoosiers have never done, but about preparing for Penn State rather than looking at a full turnaround on a grand scale.
"This is our one time to play this game," Wilson said. "This is our one chance for Penn State. Then it will be the next game, our one chance. And just because you've done the past good or bad doesn't ensure it, doesn't guarantee it."
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published October 5, 2013 4:00 AM