What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an opposing bloggers questions their teams; they answer. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: John M, from SBN's excellent Indiana blog, The Crimson Quarry.
1) What's the mood like in Hoosier-ville right now? Excited since the football team finally got over the hump in Big Ten play? Confused that football is showing so many signs of life and demanding attention when basketball season is right around the corner?
I think the mood is fairly optimistic. People are pretty pleased with what they have seen from the football team so far. The major disappointments have been Ball State and Navy, two games where IU gave away late leads. If IU had held on in those two games, then the Hoosiers would be playing for bowl eligibility Saturday. Still, after a really ugly 1-11 season last year, there is reason for hope, and this remains an extremely young team. As for basketball, there is always the temptation to turn away from football at this time of year, but despite that, attendance has been pretty solid in Bloomington this year. Since it's election season, I'll say this: if a right track-wrong track poll were conducted of IU fans, I think the vast majority would believe that football and basketball are on the right track. Even though we always thought the basketball program the ascent from 12-20 to preseason number one in just 19 months is astounding. If IU can beat Iowa, the next few weeks could be very interesting for IU fans as we watch both teams.
2) There's a strange set of conditions at play right now: the two best teams in the Leaders division (Ohio State and Penn State) can't play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Outside of Wisconsin for a few weeks, none of the other teams in that division have looked particularly good. Indiana has one Big Ten win in its pocket and in its final four games gets to play Iowa and Purdue (two teams seemingly in free-fall right now) and a Wisconsin team that's had a bear of a time scoring the ball without Joel Stave at QB (and he's out for the year). It doesn't seem THAT far-fetched to think that Indiana could win all three of those games and, assuming another Wisconsin stumble, that Indiana could be the Leaders division representative at 4-4. Have you allowed yourself to think of that possibility at all? Or is just putting the cart way before the horse?
Oh, sure. I've allowed myself to think about it. This is the first time since 1993 that IU has entered November in control of its own destiny in the Rose Bowl race. I'm not going to ignore it. It's extremely unlikely, but you are correct that it doesn't really involve any single occurrence that is horribly unrealistic. IU is favored against Iowa and Purdue isn't good. A Wisconsin upset is unlikely but not crazy, and I think Wisconsin almost certainly will lose to either OSU and PSU, if not both. I realize, of course, that IU could flop against both the Hawkeyes and the Badgers and be 3-7 nine days from now. But during every football season, until IU has its seventh loss of the season, I'm always trying to find the path to bowl eligibility. It just so happens this year that IU's most plausible path to 6-6 probably would involve a stop in Indianapolis first.
3) As a fan of a team that regards back-up quarterbacks as having approximately the same amount of utility to the football team as the guy who fills the water bottles, I have to admit that I'm slightly confused (but intrigued) by the QB situation in Bloomington these days. I thought the offense would crash and burn without Tre Roberson, but Coffman and Sudfeld are not just keeping things afloat -- they're keeping the offense positively humming for the most part. Has that been a surprise? Is there any sort of method to the rotation between the two? It seems like Indiana has ended the game with Sudfeld several times -- why doesn't he start?
I am pleasantly surprised by how well the backup QBs have played. It speaks well of the coaches, both their ability to evaluate talent and their teaching ability. I still would rather have Roberson and his running ability, but they have been good. Although Coffman is listed as the starter in the depth chart, Sudfeld may well start against Iowa. There really hasn't been a formal rotation. Sudfeld came in against Ball State when Coffman was hurt, and against Northwestern and Ohio State when IU was down big (and led nice comebacks in all of those games). Against MSU and Navy, I think it was Wilson's intent to rotate them, but IU led for nearly all of both of those games, and I think it is difficult to yank a QB, even when the offense is stagnating, when playing with a lead. That changed against Illinois, when Wilson yanked Coffman after a second quarter interception and Sudfeld played the rest of the way. It was the first time he had come in without either a big lead or a big deficit, and he did pretty well. That's a long way of saying, no, there isn't really any pattern.
4) Who are some other offensive weapons on this Indiana team that Iowa fans should know about? Is anyone a threat to "James Hardy" us? (Please say "no.")
There is only one James Hardy. Shane Wynn is sort of the anti-Hardy. He's very short, but leads the team with 6 TD catches. Another guy to watch is Cody Latimer. He leads the team with 532 receiving yards on only 32 catches (16.6 YPR). Stephen Houston has emerged as the starting RB, but D'Angelo Roberts and Tevin Coleman are solid backups.
5) How's the defense? It seems like it's been pretty porous, but you did pretty much shut down Illinois for the better part of three quarters last week. Was that an aberration? A breakthough?
The defense is bad, but unlike last season, they have had their moments. Being #93 in FBS in total defense isn't worthy of pride, but it's better than being #109, which is where IU was last year. Run defense continues to be a problem, but there have been more glimmers of hope this year. IU is giving up 29 points per game, which isn't good, but with IU's offense has been good enough to keep IU in every game so far.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
After the fourth quarter collapse against Navy, I went all gloom-and-doom, and predicted a blowout loss to Illinois. I was happy to be wrong, and I think it's going to be a great game Saturday. Still, for all the progress, this remains a young and flawed team, while Iowa is merely a flawed team. I think Ferentz will hold off the jackals for another week. Iowa 28, Indiana 27.
Thanks for being a good sport, John. Be sure to check out and the rest of his Hoosier-lovin' homies at The Crimson Quarry. You can also follow John and The Crimson Quarry on Twitter at @crimsonquarry. The Iowa-Indiana game is in Bloomington, IN on Saturday, November 3 at 2:30pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.