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After a rough outing at Minnesota, Penn State’s secondary will be tested again by Indiana

The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing, having averaged 308 yards per game. The Lions need to improve from Minnesota's 339-yard output last week.

Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland celebrates after making a tackle against Pittsburgh in  September.
Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland celebrates after making a tackle against Pittsburgh in September.Read moreScott Taetsch / MCT

The memories of Minnesota wide receivers running free through the Penn State secondary will stay with much of Nittany Nation for a while, but the Nittany Lions coaching staff has spent the week preparing for Indiana, and perhaps a better passing attack than that of the Golden Gophers.

The 24th-ranked Hoosiers, who face the No. 9 Lions on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, lead the Big Ten in passing at 308.0 yards per game. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey is fifth in the nation in completion percentage at 72.0%. Most of their wide receivers possess a lethal combination of size and speed.

Indiana will further stress a Lions secondary that gave up 339 yards on just 20 pass attempts last week at Minnesota in a 31-26 defeat. Speaking to reporters Thursday in a conference call, safeties coach Tim Banks said the problems were a matter of poor tackling and not taking the proper angles to the pass-catcher.

Poor communication appeared to be another dilemma. The Lions entered the game worried about the Golden Gophers’ dynamic rushing attack and played more of a zone defense in the secondary, but there seemed to be confusion when one target would be passed on to another defender but not picked up right away.

“Those guys’ run game was by far one of the best ones we had seen, so we made a commitment to stop the run,” Banks said. “Any time you do that, you put your secondary in situations where they’re on islands. We just didn’t do a great job of getting guys on the ground after the catch.

“Those are things our guys understand and we revel in the challenge of having that opportunity to go out there and play man-to-man. Our guys enjoy it. So we just need to do a better job of getting guys on the ground when they’ve caught the ball.”

Junior safety Jonathan Sutherland said the Lions learned from their mistakes after watching the Minnesota film, knowing they needed to fix the little things. Now they’re looking ahead.

“It’s all gone,” he said of the secondary’s errors against the Gophers. “It’s not dealing with Indiana so we’re not really focused on it anymore. We went through the mistakes and the corrections, we learned from it, so now we’re moving on.”

Ramsey, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound redshirt junior, lost the starting job to redshirt freshman Michael Penix in preseason camp but returns as a starter because Penix suffered a season-ending injury Nov. 2 against Northwestern.

It will be Ramsey’s 20th career start. He passed for 236 yards and a touchdown in last year’s 33-28 loss to Penn State.

“Ramsey’s really improved,” Banks said. “I think those guys have done a really good job with their system, putting some talent around them, and also putting in and implementing a system that allows them to play to their quarterback’s strengths. It’s definitely going to be a tremendous challenge.”

Indiana’s four wide receivers average 13.7 yards per catch and have scored 12 touchdowns. Junior Whop Philyor leads the Hoosiers with 59 receptions for 813 yards.

The pass defense of the Nittany Lions wants to avoid a repeat of last week. The unit allowed more than 300 yards for the second time this season, and its average yield of 225.8 yards per game has dropped it to 63rd in the FBS. Playing their fourth ranked opponent of the season this week, the Lions know there are no breaks.

“When you’re playing the caliber of teams that we play, they have some tremendous athletes and they have some tremendous coaches,” Banks said. “Sometimes they just have a better call and have a better play than we have. We understand that with every call, there’s some strengths and there’s some weaknesses.

“We obviously want to execute at a high level to give us the best chance to succeed in that particular defense that’s called, but yeah, sometimes those guys make some plays. That’s kind of how it is.”