WHO: Indiana Hoosiers (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten)
WHEN: Saturday, October 13
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (Bloomington, IN)
KICKOFF: 11:00 AM Central
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn
ODDS: Iowa -5.0
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, highs in the mid 50s
Can you believe that we're almost halfway through the season and this will be Iowa's first 11 AM kickoff of the season? Welcome to #Brunchball, folks. Iowa is heading back on the road for the second straight week, this time to Bloomington to face good ol' #CHAOSTEAM.
Iowa has dominated this rivalry historically (44-28-4) and also recently, winning six of the last seven meetings. Overall Kirk Ferentz is 9-5 against Indiana during his tenure at Iowa. Iowa has won the most recent meetings, 45-29 in Iowa City in 2014 and 35-27 in Bloomington as part of the 12-0 match in 2015. Iowa's wins in the series have been lopsided as well -- all but two of Iowa's wins over IU under Ferentz have been by at least 14 points, the great escape against the Hoosiers in 2010 (an 18-13 Iowa win preserved by a possible IU touchdown pass dropped in the end zone in the final seconds) and the aforementioned 8-point win three years ago (and even in that game Iowa had a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter until IU scored a touchdown with a little over two minutes to go to cut the lead to 8). Meanwhile, two of Indiana's last three wins over Iowa have been by three points (the outlier was their 38-20 win over Iowa in 2007; that was a profoundly weird game).
Ferentz Iowa teams have also only tended to lose to Indiana when they're just not very good, too. Indiana's wins against KF-led Iowa teams have come in 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007, and 2012; every single one of those Iowa teams rank among the worst of his tenure. When he's had a good (or better) Iowa team, they've managed to take care of business against IU. Since we think this Iowa team is pretty good, let's hope that bit of history remains accurate.
INDIANA SEASON RECAP
Indiana went 3-0 in non-conference play, starting with a 38-28 victory over FIU on the road. They scratched out a 20-16 win over Virginia in a monsoon in Week 2, then trounced the Ball State Fightin' David Lettermans in Week 3. They opened Big Ten play with a 35-21 loss to Michigan State. They fell behind 14-0 in that game and were down 28-7 after three quarters before making a spirited charge with 14 straight points in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 28-21 with just over three minutes to go. They opted to kick away to MSU, though, and on the first play of the ensuing Sparty drive, MSU ran for a 75-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 35-21 and effectively end the game.
They bounced back with an ugly and not entirely convincing 24-17 win at Rutgers. After going down 7-0 early, Indiana scored 24 straight points in the first half to take a 24-7 lead into halftime; then they just... stopped scoring. Their second half drives included two punts, a fumble, and an interception. Rutgers scored twice in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 24-17, but kicked the ball deep with almost four minutes to go and never got the ball back. Indiana is the only FBS team to play Rutgers this year and not score at least 38 points; every other FBS team has also beaten Rutgers by at least 21 points as well.
And last week Indiana became the latest team to get torched by Dwayne Haskins and the terrifying OSU offense, giving up 49 points and 609 yards to the Buckeye juggernaut. They kept the game close in the first half against the Buckeyes (they actually led 17-14 midway through the second quarter and were down just 28-20 at halftime), but couldn't keep up with OSU in the second half (outscored 21-6).
Indiana's offense this year is really just... okay-ish. They're averaging 27.8 ppg, 80th in the country, and 411.2 ypg, 66th in the country. On a per-play basis, they're averaging 5.43 yards per play, 85th in the country. IU is averaging 247.7 passing yards per game (57th nationally) and 163.5 rushing yards per game (79th nationally). It's one thing to be held in check by Ohio State or Michigan State, but mustering only 24 points against Rutgers is a warning sign. Then again, they did put up 451 yards on 5.5 yards per play, which is a much healthier total. A failed red zone scoring opportunity and a -1 turnover margin kept them from posting more points on Rutgers.
The key man for the IU offense is quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who's been more efficient than explosive so far this season. Ramsey is second in the Big Ten in passing yards (1361 through six games), but he's seventh in passing yards per game (226.8) and seventh in QB rating (133.5). His 66.8% completion rate is fourth in the league, but that number is fueled by a lot of short passes -- his 6.5 yards per attempt figure is 11th in the league. Ramsey also has a 2:1 TD:INT ratio (11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions). Still, Ramsey is a patient, accurate QB -- and we've seen quarterbacks like that give Iowa problems in the past.
Ramsey spreads the ball around a lot in the passing game -- eight players have at least 10 receptions this year and seven different players have over 100 receiving yards so far. J-Shun Harris, a 5-8 possession receiver, leads the team in receptions (22), while the bigger Nick Westbrook, 6-3, 215 lbs, leads the team in receiving yards (269) and is second on the team in receptions (20) and touchdowns (2). Big target Donovan Hale, 6-4, 229 lbs, leads the team in touchdowns (4) and should be a menace around the end zone. Wonderfully-named Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle have also been reliable chain-movers for the IU passing game.
On the ground, the rushing game runs through freshman running back Stevie Scott. Scott, a big back at 6-2, 236 lbs, has 528 yards and four touchdowns on 107 carries (a 4.93 ypc average). Scott will be a load for Iowa's defenders to bring down on Saturday.
Indiana has been good about avoiding penalties this season (5.5 per game for an average of 59.5 yards per game, 6th in the Big Ten) and solid on third downs (converting 42.9%, 6th in the Big Ten), though they've had a few issues in the red zone (scoring on 80.8% of their chances, 11th in the Big Ten). They also do a solid job of protecting the QB (just nine through six games so far, tied for 5th in the Big Ten) and avoiding turnovers (nine total turnovers and a +4 turnover margin).
Indiana replaced former head coach Kevin Wilson with Tom Allen, their defensive coordinator, before the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl, and they've been rewarded with much more respectable defenses since his arrival. Pre-Allen, Indiana's defense was barely more than a speed bump to most opponents; they ranked 102nd or worse in scoring defense and 92nd or worse in total defense in each of the last five seasons prior to Allen's arrival. Indiana finished 45th in total defense in Allen's first year in charge of the defense (2016) and was 25th in yards per play conceded (5.09). They were even better last year, ranking 27th in total defense (340.1 ypg) and 19th in yards per play conceded (4.92). There's been some backsliding this year so far -- they rank 60th in total defense (369.7 ypg) and 56th in yards per play conceded (5.34).
Their scoring defense has been pretty consistent under Allen -- 27.2 ppg (57th) in 2016, 25.3 (52nd) in 2017, and 25.8 (65th) in 2018. Those aren't lights out numbers, but they are about 10 ppg better than what they were typically averaging pre-Allen. Allen hasn't made Indiana's defense elite, but he has made it pretty credible -- which is a big step forward from the trash fire defenses they were putting on the field before he got to Bloomington.
This year Indiana is allowing opponents to throw for 212.2 ypg (48th) while completing 58.8% of their passes (65th) for a QB rating of 129.7 (62nd). They've given up 12 touchdowns while collecting seven interceptions. The Hoosiers are giving up 157.5 rushing yards per game (64th), on 4.14 ypc (67th). Seriously, by almost every measure IU's defense this year is... okay. They're not terrible at anything, but they're also not great at anything.
Defensive back Jonathan Crawford (32) and linebacker Dameon Willis, Jr. (31) are the leading tacklers for IU. Tremendously named linebacker Reakwon Jones has 4.5 tackles for loss, best on the team. Indiana has 11 sacks so far this year, 8th in the Big Ten, with Nile Sykes and Marcelino Ball leading the way with two sacks apiece so far. Andre Brown Jr. leads the team with three pass break-ups, but has none of the seven interceptions Indiana has recorded so far this year.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
I think this has to be Ramsey and the IU passing attack against Iowa's secondary. The strength of Indiana's offense is in Ramsey's patient passing attack, while Iowa's pass defense is a little shaky right now, what with two true freshmen corners possibly starting on Saturday. Julius Brents played well against Minnesota last week and Riley Moss improved a lot throughout that game, but Ramsey is a much more accurate passer than Minnesota's Zach Annexstad is at this point in his career. That's going to pose a whole new challenge to Iowa's young corners. If Iowa can force Ramsey into some mistakes and Brents and Moss can limit the damage IU is able to do through the air, I like Iowa's chances of coming away with a second straight road win.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
First and foremost, just survive and advance -- get the win and move on. Given the patched-together back-seven Iowa's defense is likely to field on Saturday (it's possible, though probably not likely, that we could see four true freshmen on the field on defense at the same time in this one), this one could look a little raggedy and be a bit closer than we'd like to see. What I really want to see is the Iowa offense continue to show progress. They were productive on the field (but not on the scoreboard) against Wisconsin and followed that up with a strong showing in terms of production and points against Minnesota last week. Three good performances in a row would make for a very welcome trend. And with the defense ailing, we probably need to see a good outing from the offense here -- this doesn't look like a game where Iowa can try to grind out a 17-10 win.
The absences on defense make me concerned about this game, although I liked the way the freshmen cornerbacks performed after being thrown into the fire last week. But I'm comforted by the fact that this Iowa offense is starting to look more confident and showing signs of figuring things out; I think they can keep that positive momentum going against an Indiana defense that's decent, but not exceptional.
Iowa 33, Indiana 24