One of the nation’s leading rushers versus the nation’s top rush defense.
It’s easy to decipher what the marquee matchup is in Saturday’s Penn State-Indiana game.
“That’s what this game is really about,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “Our rush defense versus their running back.”
The Hoosiers’ Tevin Coleman is averaging 162.5 yards per game, tops in the FBS.
Penn State (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten) has not allowed an opposing player to approach the yardage Coleman averages per game.
Just one team even has had more rushing yards against the Nittany Lions than Coleman produces in an average game.
The only individual to come close was Ohio State’s Ezekial Elliot, who needed 26 carries, none going for more than 12, to get 119 yards.
The Lions allow 77.1 rushing yards per game — a yard fewer than Alabama’s FBS-leading number.
“Every week, (defensive coordinator Bob Shoop) gives us the rundown of where we stand in our league and in the country,” linebacker Brandon Bell said. “And obviously, when you’re No. 1 in some things, you must be doing something good.”
Penn State also is in the top 10 nationally in total defense (third, 273.4) and scoring defense (ninth, 17.8).
But it is in rushing defense where the Nittany Lions have been most dominant.
“When you stop the run is the biggest key,” defensive tackle Anthony Zettel said. “That’s our biggest challenge, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
PSU hasn’t faced a rushing challenge as strident as Coleman. He is averaging 8.0 yards per carry, has had at least 108 yards in every game this season, and perhaps most strikingly, has a carry of at least 43 yards in all but one game.
The longest carry Penn State has allowed, by contrast, is 25 yards, and that was to a quarterback. No starting running back has had a carry against PSU this season that went for longer than 16 yards.
The Lions have allowed 523 rushing yards to running backs in eight games (65.4 average).
In half of his past 10 games, Coleman can boast a single carry of at least that long.
“He’s fast, has some size and gets downhill and is able to find the hole very quickly,” Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson said. “He’s very good, so we have to be very good in our technique and be consistent.”
Franklin said he and Shoop are reminded of the Oakland Raiders’ Darren McFadden when they watch the similarly sized 6-foot-1, 210-pound Coleman on tape.
What has made his production even more remarkable is that the Hoosiers (3-5, 0-4) have lacked the threat of a passing game in recent weeks.
Since being forced to turn to true freshman Zander Diamont at quarterback because of injuries, Indiana has 35 passing yards on 10 completions over its past two games.
Still against two top-five Big Ten defenses in Michigan State and Michigan, who were more than eager to stack the box against him, Coleman produced. He has 240 rushing yards in that time.
“We’re the nation’s best run defense, and that’s the nation’s top running back,” Bell said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”