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Sudfeld Proves Himself Against Penn State

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Nate Sudfeld methodically tore apart Penn State's pass defense and led the Hoosiers to their first ever victory over the Nittany Lions. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.
Nate Sudfeld methodically tore apart Penn State's pass defense and led the Hoosiers to their first ever victory over the Nittany Lions. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

You were warned about Nate Sudfeld.

He is the best pure passer in Hoosiers history, though that’s not saying much. 

Sudfeld’s performance against Penn State — he completed 23 of 38 passes for 321 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — speaks for itself.

He could have, and really should have, had three touchdown passes if not for his right guard, Ralston Evans, mysteriously meandering downfield during a red zone touchdown pass, which was nullified once the lineman was penalized for being an ineligible receiver downfield.

Regardless, Sudfeld persevered. He hit big plays when his receivers were open downfield and took what Penn State gave him underneath, which was a lot.

Going Deep

Penn State often either had its cornerbacks play man coverage with at least two safeties playing a deep zone, or three or more defensive backs played a deep zone coverage.

This typically led to receivers being double-covered when they ran deep routes, and Sudfeld responded by throwing the deep ball selectively. He attempted just six passes of 20 or more yards and completed four for 132 yards and one touchdown.

The two incompletions were in the end zone with the secondary beat, but Sudfeld led his receivers too far on each of those plays.

Penn State’s Trevor Williams was the cornerback in coverage on four of the six deep passing plays and was beat each time, giving up three receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown. The only pass that wasn’t completed was when Williams was in single, not double, coverage.

Jordan Lucas, starting opposite Williams, was beat twice, giving up one reception for 26 yards. He was in double coverage on both plays.

Dinking And Dunking

While Sudfeld often has been overlooked nationally, he led the country with 19 passes of 20 yards or more after three weeks of play.

That is why it’s so surprising that 84 percent of his pass attempts last week went for less than 20 yards.

Still, Sudfeld made it work underneath, not against the entire Penn State defense, but really just against Jordan Lucas, who was covering the intended receiver on 13 of 32 attempted short to intermediate passes.

Lucas allowed nine receptions, all outside of the hash marks, for 100 yards and a touchdown. While he regularly lined up five to six yards off of the receiver, he often pivoted too quickly out of his backpedal, anticipating a deep pass. Sudfeld and his receivers took advantage of this tendency by running quick out routes, short inside and outside hitches and bubble screens.

This often led to Lucas being out of position to immediately tackle the receiver, and he also missed two tackles, leading to even more yardage after the catch.

No other Penn State defender covered the targeted receiver more than four times, and Mike Hull gave up the most yardage of any other defender gave up against short and intermediate passes (32, about 17 of which came after he missed an open-field tackle on a halfback screen to Stephen Houston).

Aside from Lucas, Penn State defenders allowed 8 of 19 short to intermediate passes to be completed for 89 yards and an interception.

Not Lifting A Helping Hand

As noted two weeks ago, Missouri depleted Indiana’s passing game by getting their hands up and forcing Sudfeld to make awkward passes through small windows near the line of scrimmage.

Penn State didn’t get the memo.

While Penn State deflected four passes, they were all by linebackers and defensive backs between five to 10 yards deep over the middle of the field.

The only notable outcome from Penn State defenders getting their hands up was when Glenn Carson leaped and deflected a pass nearly 15 yards behind him and into the waiting hands of safety Adrian Amos.

The defensive line seemed completely oblivious to how Missouri shut down Indiana's passing game, wasting Penn State’s best possible defense against Sudfeld.

That’s not to put all of the blame on the players, though.

That’s also poor coaching.

CORRECTION: Nate Sudfeld's last name is incorrectly spelled "Sudfield" 10 times in a previous article. We've learned that he is the real deal, but it's also about time we learned how to correctly spell his last name.