Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
What: New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Indiana (6-6, 2-4) vs. Duke Blue Devils (7-5, 4-4)
When: Saturday, December 26 at 3:30
Where: New Yankee Stadium in New York City
How to Watch: The game will be broadcast on ABC. You can also listen on the IU Radio Network.
What’s at Stake: A victory gives the Hoosiers a winning record and their first bowl win since 1991 (a win in the Copper Bowl). It would also continue the good momentum the Hoosiers are experiencing right now as they head into an important offseason. The teams are playing for the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy.
A Few Things to Look For
1. Notable Absences
The Duke Blue Devils will be without their star on defense as as All-American safety Jeremy Cash is out for an extended period of time after recent surgery on his wrist. Cash, the best player on Duke’s defense, was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and he recorded 101 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 2015.
“We’re all certainly disappointed for Jeremy, especially in the sense that he’ll miss being on the field with his teammates for his final game in a Duke uniform,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s really just so unfortunate because of the type of competitor, teammate and leader he is for our program.” Cash is currently projected as a second-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Indiana might be without an impact player of its own. Running back Jordan Howard was injured against Maryland and missed the finale against Purdue with a knee injury. Howard has been limited in practice and he’s considered questionable for Saturday’s game in New York. The Hoosiers are used to playing without Howard and Devine Redding has shown that he is capable of leading the way. Still, it would be nice to have Howard on the field, particularly if this is to be his final game as a Hoosier.
2. Sudfeld Could Go Out On a High-Note
Indiana’s senior quarterback has had a wonderful career and he will have the opportunity to end it with a big day against a defense that struggles against the pass. Duke is ranked 104th in the country as a passing defense (S&P+) and, as previously mentioned, will be playing without their top safety. In addition, the Blue Devils don’t generate any kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks (118th in adjusted sack rate) and Sudfeld will be operating behind one of the best lines in the country. If the weather cooperates, never a guarantee at Christmas-time in New York, I fully expect the IU passing game to have a huge day to close the 2015 season.
3. Slowing Down Sirk
Thomas Sirk, the 6’4” junior quarterback for the Duke Blue Devils, is the player the Hoosiers defense most needs to worry about. In eleven games, Sirk threw for 2,462 yards with a 60% completion rate along with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. In addition, Sirk was the team’s leading rusher as he carried the ball 133 times for 701 yards and six touchdowns. Sirk has four pretty good wide receivers and he spreads the ball between them. Max McCaffrey leads the group with 48 catches for 601 yards and five touchdowns. T.J. Rahming (40 catches for 522 yards), Johnell Barnes (34 catches for 411 yards) and Anthony Nash (31 catches for 471 yards and a 6’5” target) are the other three receivers the Hoosiers secondary will need to deal with.
IU’s secondary has been a weakness for this team all season long. Have they been able to improve a bit during the extended practice time? Can they consistently get off the field on third down against a dual-threat quarterback?
IU’s defensive coordinator, Brian Knorr, has some experience with the Duke Blue Devils from his time at Wake Forest and he offered these thoughts on IU’s bowl opponent. “They do what they do and they do it very, very well”. “I’ve been very impressed with this group and it’s as good a group up front as I’ve seen Duke have since I’ve been playing them.”
Duke is 23rd in the country on offensive third downs (S&P+) while the Hoosiers D is a woeful 121st on third down. On paper, the Hoosiers should be able to have a pretty nice day offensively so if the defense can grab a handful of stops, IU will feel good about their chances to get a win.
4. Breaking Out in the Big Apple?
It is important not to overreact to anything you see in the bowl game. Just because someone has a nice bowl game doesn’t mean they should be written into the 2016 All-B1G squad. However, a strong performance for an underclassman could be an indicator of things to come. The Indiana Hoosiers will have had additional practice time and they’ve spent much of this time seeing what they have in their younger players. Maybe Mike Majette will flash at running back. Maybe a young receiver like Nick Westbrook has shown enough in practice to get some additional targets in the game. Maybe a young corner like Tyler Green has improved a lot in the past three weeks of practice or a young pass rusher like Jacob Robinson bursts onto the scene with a sack. I don’t know where the breakout performances will come from but the Hoosiers have a lot of young and hungry players that are eager to prove themselves before the offseason begins and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a freshman or sophomore seize the spotlight and get us talking about his potential for 2016.