After a monumental, come-from-behind win at West Point last weekend, the Demon Deacons look to build off their momentum against Indiana. With steep conference schedules in the near future, this is a must-win game for both teams to reach bowl eligibility. And did I mention that there's a huge rivalry and banter between these schools?
1. Jordan Howard has stepped into Tevin Coleman's dynamic shoes rather admirably, with 507 yards and three touchdowns in just three games. What kind of runner is Howard and what kind of problems does he present a defense?
From the point they take the handoff, you could put a split-screen up and not tell the difference between Coleman and Howard. They're both quick-to-the-hole, downhill runners that don't spend any time running east-west in the backfield. They've also both benefited from running behind one of the best, if not the best, offensive line corps in the Big Ten that tends to create holes that you fit a Silverado through. You'll notice the differences between the two backs, however, as soon as they hit that hole. Where Coleman has some photon beam next-level burst and probably led the dang country in yards without contact, Jordan Howard is a man that will hit you over the head repeatedly with a dang shovel. To quote Kevin Wilson, he "does not fall backwards." The dude has the kind of leg drive that makes running backs coaches moderately aroused in public. He might not be the home run threat Coleman was on every play, but it's 6, 7, 8 yards every time. There's a reason he's leading the country in rushing yards right now.
2. The offense has averaged over 40 points per game. Besides Howard, what makes this offense churn?
Having a big quarterback with a super quick release and fast wideouts help. It all begins with Nate Sudfeld. He's a 6'6", 240 pound with a quick release that will likely go somewhere between the 2nd and 4th round in next year's NFL Draft depending on what draftnik you're talking to that day. He's leading the Big Ten in passing and is averaging over 10 yards a completion. Ricky Jones is a big reason for those numbers, too. The undersized wideout is second in the conference in receiving yards himself -- and has been a big time vertical threat for the Hoosiers so far this season. But possibly the biggest reason? That offensive line. In an offense that is hardly scared to throw the ball vertically, they've given up one sack in three games. One. Not allowing sacks is a good thing.
3. On the flip side, the defense ranks No. 120 in the country. What problems have they faced so far and where are they most vulnerable?
I won't sit here and tell you Indiana's defense is, say, good. It isn't. But it's not as bad as the statistics and box scores from the first couple games would have you believe. Indiana was without a handful of integral defensive starters including maybe Indiana's best four defenders (Tegray Scales, Darius Latham, Chase Dutra, Ralph Green) against Southern Illinois -- so the lapses there are a bit more explainable. Indiana hasn't yet developed the depth on the defensive side of a ball to make up for those sort of absences. Since that game, it's been a tale of two halves. Brian Knorr -- who I assume y'all are quite familiar with -- has shown an ability to adapt in the second half -- giving up only 15 points after halftime in the last two games.
But, yeah, those first halves. Uh, not great. The secondary is the primary point of concern -- and where teams have been able to hang points on Indiana early. Indiana's young corners often play soft in coverage, giving up plenty of space on underneath throws and comeback routes on the outside. Of course, that extra cushion doesn't help if you miss tackles -- which is probably the biggest concern in the defensive backfield, personally. Indiana lost a sure tackler in Antonio Allen due to offseason trouble, and his loss was noticed in the Western Kentucky when missed tackles led to a couple early touchdowns.
4. In June, head coach Kevin Wilson said verbatim "We are going to kick Wake Forest's ass." Because of these comments, many Wake fans circled this game of their calendars. How do these comments make Hoosier fans feel?
Yeah, yeah, that was kinda weird. Wilson's a very affable dude (and known reader of our blog) that's known to joke around and whatnot. It was at an alumni event that he said it, and I think it was largely a harmless, humorous, random comment meant to play to the crowd. Probably not something to get worked up about. But it's worth remembering that Wilson is a Carolina alum that grew up in Maiden. He got his first full-time coaching job at Winston-Salem State as an O-Line coach in the late '80s. It's his first ever game as a head coach in his home state -- and I'm sure he'll have a ton of friends and family in the building. There's not a doubt in my mind that he really, really wants to win this game. But I don't think Indiana fans really have strong feelings either way about the comment. Haha, that was kinda funny, glad our coach isn't a robot, move on. That sort of thing.
5. Wilson is in his fifth season with a record of 17-34 and no bowl appearances. How does the Indiana fanbase feel about Wilson and his future?
This is a topic I've rapped about again, and again, and again. It's a very hard thing for those outside of Bloomington to grasp how damn hard it has been historically to win here. Bill Mallory did it in the late 80s and early 90s for a bit -- and by it we mean a couple of 8-4 seasons intermingled with a 6-6 or two. No Division I program has lost more games over the course of history. Even other basketball-centric schools that have been glorious dogshit in football for the better of forever have stumbled ass-backward into a few really good seasons recently. Y'all did it! Kansas did it! Duke did it! UConn did it! Not Indiana.
Bottom line, you have to have patience with a coach in Bloomington -- and reasonable and rational people understand that. Wilson puts a team on the field that is competitive and plays a fun-to-watch style of football. He's recruiting against other power schools instead of MAC teams. The cupboard was very, very bare when Wilson came to Bloomington. The road toward respectability is a long one, but Indiana is, at the very least, on the road and moving forward. He's a brilliant offensive mind -- and he's very much fine in Bloomington.
6. The Hoosiers stand 3-0 now. The wins, however, have come against Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky and FIU after trailing at halftime. Does the fanbase believe that this team will make a bowl, or its undefeated record is a product of its early schedule?
A good portion of this answer could be tied to the last -- Indiana are conditioned to wait for the other shoe to drop when it comes to football. It's a mood of growing, cautious optimism that received a good bit of validation with Saturday's win over a very good Western Kentucky team that had already beaten a power conference opponent. Western's a good team that might still reel off 10 wins -- and FIU's probably a bowl team out of C-USA as well. If you go back and read my Monday column from this week, it reflects the growing hype and belief that this is a good team because they do the things that good teams do. They're good up front, they run the ball, they don't turn it over, they win close games. Is the record a product of the schedule? Sure. The defensive performance against SIU was not a good one -- the luxury to play without said starters is not one they'd likely be afforded against a better opponent. But Indiana has improved each week. The Hoosiers haven't been 4-0 since 1990, and if they can win this week in Winston-Salem, the hype will reach a fever pitch prior to Ohio State coming to Bloomington for a matchup on ABC the following week.
7. PREDICTION TIME! How do you see this game going in Winston-Salem and what's your prediction?
Ughhhhhhhh. Don't be insulted by this -- but this is a dang trap game in every sense of the word. Indiana fans have already started flooding Lee Fitting's mentions on Twitter about bringing Gameday for Bloomington for the Ohio State game (I'm serious) and I'm a bit worried about players looking ahead. Indiana laid an egg last year ahead of the big road win over SEC champ Missouri at Bowling Green -- and it's reasonable to think that a team that is new to success might not handle it all that well. My brain says Indiana is the better team -- I'm of the understanding that y'all are quite anemic offensively and might start a dude that can't throw the ball downfield, two things that play exactly in to Indiana's strengths and very similar to what they saw in FIU.
I'm also inclined to pick Wake because I picked Western Kentucky last week and I'm gonna be anxious all week that I jinxed ohhhhhhhh no everything is bad and terrible it is better for your health to just have a bad football team i think
Hell with it, Hoosiers 41, Wake 24.
Thanks again to Kyle for his insight on Indiana football.