Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
After surviving a wild 48-47 opener against Southern Illinois, the Hoosiers have a must-win match-up with the upstart Florida International Golden Panthers (1-0), the Hoosiers have many aspects to clean up if they are going to emerge victorious. Here are some keys to the game for Indiana:
1. The Defense Must Improve
I feel like Captain Obvious from the Hotel.com commercials, but the bottom line is that the Hoosiers will get blown off the field if they have another performance like last week.
Indiana defensive coordinator will get back the services of defensive linemen Ralph Green and Darius Latham, two play makers that should give the Hoosiers more of a semblance of a pass rush. IU only had one sack and two tackles for loss last week and that number has to improve if they want to win. Indiana needs a push upfront. SIU absolutely domination the Hoosier line, blowing them off the ball in route to giving up 248 yards on the ground.
The Hoosiers did win turnover battle last week 2-0, but they need the secondary to be a bigger factor in the FIU passing game. Golden Panther quarterback Alex McGough completed over 75 percent of his passes last week against UCF. Getting some pressure from the front seven and being more aggressive in the secondary should allow the Hoosiers to know McGough's accuracy down.
2. Improve Third Down Efficiency
This is a key for both the offense and the defense as Indiana struggled on both sides of the ball in this category. On offense the Hoosiers converted just 38.5 percent of their third down plays against the Salukis. That number is just not good enough to be a really successful offense against FBS teams. Cutting out penalties and getting positive plays on first and second downs will set the Hoosiers up for more success.
Even more concerning was that the IU defense allowed SIU to convert over 65 percent of their third down plays. The only way to improve upon this number is to improve on first and second downs. The Hoosiers surrendered an ungodly 8.4 yards per play in week one. Limiting FIU to a couple yards per play on first and second down will at least set the defense up for more success on third downs.
3. Establish the Run
Jordan Howard proved to be as good as advertised as he paced the Hoosier running attack with 145 yards and three touchdowns. However, he will not be going up against another FCS opponent in week two. Howard will face a stiff FIU defense that only allowed 46 total rushing yards last week. Howard and Redding (16 attempts 57 yards 2 TDs) will have to power their way through the FIU defense. Having a successful run game will open up the passing game and keep IU's defense off the field as well as suck the will out of the Panther defense.
4. Avoid Turnovers
Florida International forced 33 turnovers a season ago and although they did not record one against UCF in their opener, they did force three fumbles. The Indiana offense cannot afford to give away possessions against this defense. Especially if the IU defense is going to be marshmallow soft again.
5. Make (and prevent) Big Plays on Special Teams
The Hoosiers special teams unit was called out on Monday afternoon at head coach Kevin Wilson's weekly press conference. Both the kick return game and the punting game need major improvements if IU is going to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win Saturday night (maybe even Sunday morning).
IU punter Erich Toth only netted 24.8 yards per punt and had one kick blocked for a touchdown. If the Hoosier offense is not going to put up points they will have to set the defense up and flip the field when it has the chance.
Another area where Indiana needs to improve, and it is mind-boggling as to why they cannot, is in the kickoff return game. Between true freshman Devonte Williams and sophomore Ricky Brookins combined to average just 18.8 yards on six returns. A good kick return makes it just that much easier for Nate Sudfeld and the offense to put up points.