Indiana is 0-4 in the B1G and barely survived against some bad teams in the non-conference as they somehow went 4-0. Yet they’ve also been challenging good teams. They were a play away from forcing OT against Ohio State. They had a FG chance in the 4th quarter to go up on Michigan State before the wheels came off the bus. The only game in which they really haven’t looked good is when Nate Sudfeld was out against Penn State. Even though Iowa is a perfect 8-0, this game still looks dangerous. So what does Iowa need to do to win?
Keep the Foot on the Pedal
Iowa had a 21-0 lead at halftime last week and put it into cruise control for the second half. Without any real threat throwing the ball, Maryland couldn’t mount a comeback. Against Indiana though, Iowa can’t afford to stop pressing and just sit on a lead. The Hoosier offense is very capable and they’ve scored at least 26 points in all their games where Sudfeld played, and that includes games against Ohio State and Michigan State.
So even with the Hawkeyes' very good defense, they could find themselves in a shootout. It’s a situation Iowa hasn’t been in this year. But they’ve found a way to win every other week: grinding away in the 4th quarter, playing stifling defense for entire halves, kicking game-winning field goals as time expires. So I see no reason why outscoring a team in a shootout can’t be added to that list.
The key could be the limited C.J. Beathard finding ways to make plays without the aid of play-action and rollouts. Indiana’s pass defense is bad. They are 106th in pass efficiency defense and give up 342 yards per game through the air, second-worst in the nation. But they will blitz and try to put pressure on Beathard. With severely limited escapeability, can Beathard read the blitzes and get the ball out in time?
Limit the Damage
Sudfeld is going to complete a lot of passes. He’s completing 62.8% of this throws this year and averaging 9.07 yards per attempt. He’s going to break all sorts of records at Indiana. If Iowa can create a couple turnovers from him, then that would be really helpful. But it's also important for Iowa to try and limit everyone else on the Hoosier offense.
Transfer Jordan Howard is the big threat. He’s rushed for 787 yards this year and is used every now and then in the passing game. The Hoosiers also use Devine Redding, who doesn’t average many yards per carry, but has a knack for getting in the end zone with 7 TDs this year.
Without a huge threat of Sudfeld running the ball, Iowa’s front seven should be able to focus on the RBs and I think they will be able to shut down Indiana’s run game. And while a one-dimensional offense may still be able to put up some points with Sudfeld, I think Iowa can keep them mostly in check.
Extend Drives and Hang on to the Ball
The best way to keep Sudfeld from scoring is to keep the ball out of his hands. Iowa should be able to do that. Though the numbers have slipped lately, Iowa has been pretty good on third downs, converting 43.5% of them. Indiana is one of the worst teams in the country on third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 44.7% of the time. The Hawkeyes need to be able to run when Indiana knows they’re going to run on first and second down to make third downs manageable. Then they’re going to need to be able to pass when Indiana knows they’re going to pass on third downs.
Iowa can try to control the tempo of the game too. A few 6-minute drives would certainly help. I think it’s advantage Iowa if this game ends up in the 24-17 type of range versus a 42-35 type of game. Though Indiana’s rush defense isn't quite as bad as the pass defense statistically, I think Iowa's line can wear down their front and really dominate this game. I expect a little bit more creativity in the run blocking than last week when Iowa went super basic in the second half.
Finish Both Halves Strong
Iowa has been very good all season at the end of halves. Last weekend, Iowa got a TD right before halftime that effectively put the game out of reach. The Hawkeyes have manufactured a few other drives at the end of the first half, but failed to score (the fake FG at ISU and the missed FG against Illinois). And they’ve ended games strong too: the two touchdowns against ISU, the two FGs against Illinois, and of course Marshall Koehn's game-winner against Pitt.
Indiana has been terrible in the 4th quarter in B1G play. The Hoosiers have been outscored 70-10 in games in which they had a chance to win. They definitely should have won against Rutgers, where they blew a 52-27 lead. They had a opportunity to take a lead against MSU in the 4th quarter, but missed a FG and then gave up 28 straight points.
I’d rather have the game be in hand in the 4th quarter, but at least if it's close, Iowa should have the upper hand.
I see this game going back and forth a little bit. Sudfeld makes some big plays with his arm to keep Indiana close, but ultimately Iowa’s running backs start picking up big chunks of yards as the offensive line wears down the Hoosiers' front 7. Beathard throws his first TD since October 10th and Iowa scores a late TD to pull away in the 4th quarter.
Final Score: Iowa 38 - Indiana 27
BONUS! Make your own prediction for the game, using the prediction widget from the folks at The Crowd's Line