The sports calendar has officially turned to dead. In our attempts to revive it, we’ll look ahead to each of the Iowa Hawkeyes’ opponents this fall to see what might be in store. Next up: The Indiana Hoosiers!
Indiana’s football program is not good.
Sure, it doesn’t help that they landed in the Big Ten East Division, one of the toughest divisions in all of college football (although it does include Rutgers!), but let’s be honest: Indiana football hasn’t been good in a long time.
And for that exact reason, I’m very nervous about this game for Iowa. Like the Northwestern or Purdue games last season as our most recent examples, we’ve seen Iowa teams not prepare for lesser opponents and play down at a level that results in an embarrassing loss. I can smell this potential loss coming from a mile away. It just seems par for the course that is an Iowa football season. This game worries me.
But let’s get a little more impartial and break it down with numbers.
This will be the first time the Hawks have met the Hoosiers since the undefeated 2015 regular season. Iowa holds a 44-28 overall record against Indiana and has won the last two matchups in 2014 and 2015. This will be Kirk Ferentz’s first matchup against Indiana’s second-year coach Tom Allen. Kirk was 3-1 against old head Indiana coach Kevin Wilson.
Iowa historically plays Indiana a lot closer when they’re in Bloomington compared to Iowa City. Remember that 2010 game where the final score was 18-13? I still can’t believe Iowa won that game. Yes, it was two coaches ago, but the sentiment remains the same eight years later: Iowa is a better team on paper than Indiana. However, that will not result in an Iowa win. Or at least, not a blowout.
The Hoosiers appear to be on the right track in Allen’s second year. As right of a track you can be in when you’re a bottom to mid-level dweller of the Big Ten East, I mean. The Hoosiers finished 2017 with a 5-7 record. More on this below, but they were the polar opposite of the Wilson-era Hoosier teams: their defense was the focal point.
Indiana’s record looks ok (by Indiana standards) until you break down what they accomplished in the Big Ten: a 2-7 record, with wins coming against...Illinois and Rutgers. Not great, Bob! But it did solidify the Hoosiers as a middle-of-the-pack group that
All stats via sports-ref.com unless otherwise noted.
One of the best things going for Iowa in this game will be the fact that Indiana might have itself a quarterback issue.
I don’t know enough about Indiana to say for sure, but it looks like the QB situation is unresolved heading into camp according to the Indianapolis Star. It would appear that three QBs are heading into camp trying to win the No. 1 spot: redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey, the only QB who was on the roster last fall, Arizona grad transfer Brandon Dawkins, and early enrollee freshman Michael Penix. Conventional wisdom seems to say that it will be Ramsey and Dawkins actually vying for the top spot, with Ramsey having a slight edge given his experience with the program.
This game is late in the season, yes, and everything with the quarterbacks could be resolved by then. But we all remember the 2014 Iowa quarterback situation and the quarterback headaches that ensued, and the same thing could very well happen to Indiana. If you have two QBs you don’t have one, after all.
Ramsey has the edge because he was able to beat out Richard Lagow for the starting QB position midway through last season. He finished the year with 1252 yards on 134 completions on 205 attempts for a bit over 65% completion rate, and threw 10 touchdowns to five interceptions. He has the most experience at QB for the Hoosiers, but Dawkins is a fifth-year quarterback entering his final year of eligibility. Why would he transfer if he didn’t think he had a shot at playing time?
Beyond quarterback, the Indy Star makes it seem like wide receiver is a question mark, only because of injuries last season. Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale both had their seasons cut short because of injury. The talent seems to be there, and the health is there now too, according to the Indy Star and Allen, but how that translates to a new quaterback (or two) is still a reason for some doubt. The consensus from the Star and Connelly seems to be that the Indiana offense overall will be improved this year, and the situation at QB and WR, along with overall health, will help.
At running back, Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest are expected to get the majority of the snaps. They’re returners who combined for 1132 yards and seven touchdowns. Not great, but certainly something that can be improved upon this year with an experienced offensive line. The Hoosiers return their entire offensive line from last season, which will certainly prove beneficial. That unit too was decimated by injuries last season according to the Star article linked above. Sense a recurring theme?
Bill Connelly mentions in his team preview that the 2017 iteration of the Hoosiers were strong defensively on passing downs, and that it will continue into this year. Look for that to be the strength of this defense, as linebackers Chris Covington and Tegray Scales graduated. According to another Star article, the Hoosiers finished 27th in the nation in yards allowed per game, and were the 4th best passing defense in the Big Ten.
Returning for the squad will be Nile Sykes, Marcelino Ball and A’Shon Riggins, who were all limited last year to that all too familiar injury bug that made its way across Bloomington. Like many of the players I’ve already mentioned above, they’re healthy and ready to contribute this fall. Sykes in particular needs to be a big contributor, because the defensive line lost three seniors to graduation. Ball too will need to have a big season according to the Star, as he’s the most versatile safety and or linebacker on the roster. He logged 60 tackles in his freshman season two years ago — hopefully the injury last season didn’t run his explosiveness.
Bill Connelly mentions that eight different Hoosiers got to the QB last season, but that unit has also seen the most departures. Pass defense will continue to be the strength of this team thanks to safety Jonathan Crawford, and hopefully Riggins if his return from injury goes as planned. The Star mentions however that the other areas of the secondary will be young, so Iowa will need to look to run first (no problem there) if it wants to really succeed in this game.
If Indiana played in the Big Ten West, there’s a chance they could be a dark horse for a top three finish in the division. Of course, they don’t, so there’s no chance of that, and it seems like literally every position (or at least almost every position) got bit by the injury bug last year. And yet the Hoosiers still managed to win five games. That’s honestly impressive.
Going into camp, everyone is healthy, but who knows how long that will last, and how well everything will gel, especially with all signs pointing to a QB battle that might not definitively conclude by the start of the season. But, given that this game will be played in mid-October, we’ll definitely know more about what to expect from this game by the time Monday of game week rolls round.
On paper, the Hawks will, regardless, be the more experienced and better team, but again, this game is in Bloomington, where Kirk Ferentz teams seem to have struggled the last few times they’ve visited. This game, like the Indiana football team itself, is a question mark as of now. But I’m putting a lot of faith into Nate Stanley and I think the Hawks can come out of Bloomington with a win against a team that really lost the division borderline lottery.