Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier Huddle)
The Hoosiers are coming into their homecoming matchup with the Scarlet Knights as a four-touchdown favorite. The Hoosiers, can’t let that number make them feel comfortable heading in to the game as Rutgers is hungry for an upset. Here are five keys to the Hoosiers breaking their homecoming losing streak on Saturday.
1. Play up to the standard set against Michigan State
Let’s call a spade a spade. Rutgers is a bad college football team that has already fired their coach. However, they can still be dangerous to teams like Indiana who may over look them. In order for the Hoosiers to get through Saturday with a comfortable win, they will need to play to the standard that they set two weeks ago in a close loss at Michigan State. Anything less and it is a troubling sign that Indiana is playing down to its opponent. The good news is that Indiana hasn’t really had that problem in 2019. So, the Hoosiers should be able to flex their muscles on both sides of the ball and dictate how the game is going to go from the onset.
2. Defense needs to create takeaways
Indiana’s defense has left a lot to be desired in 2019. While they are giving up a respectable 23.4 points per game, the defense had been shredded by Big Ten opponents (52 vs. OSU, 40 at MSU). The talent on the field is not much different than it was a year ago, but the turnover luck has not gone Indiana’s way in 2019 as it did in 2018. The Hoosiers forced 26 takeaways a year ago while netting just three over the first five games of 2019. It’s a tough ask for the defense to replicate the takeaways from last year, but they certainly need more than three. The Hoosiers have only forced one fumble and have 19 passes defensed (two interceptions) on 161 pass attempts. The defense must create more chances for takeaways.
Rutgers has the worst turnover margin in the Big Ten and ranks 126th nationally, so Indiana’s defense should get their opportunities to boost their numbers.
3. Put Rutgers out of their misery early
The worst thing that Indiana can do on Saturday is let Rutgers hang around. Bad teams turn dangerous when they are not buried early. Indiana needs to put the pedal to the metal early and keep their foot down through all four quarters. Rutgers has been outscored in every quarter this season and have been outscored 72-13 in the second half. The Hoosiers have outscored opponents 73-54 in the second half and have won the first quarter 48-20 so far this season. Another quick start could pave the road to a comfortable homecoming win.
4. Clean up the penalties on special teams
One of the ways big underdogs stay close in games is because the favorite gifts them yards on special teams. In the loss at Michigan State, Indiana had costly penalties on special teams that wiped out a huge punt return from Whop Philyor and gave the Michigan State’s offense the ball at the IU 25-yard line late in the game. These penalties are an absolute killer to momentum and it just can not happen. Understand that penalties do happen, it’s part of the game. Some occur as a result of trying to make a play, but others happen due to selfishness and a lack of thought.
5. Stop the run on defense, control the game with the run on offense
Indiana’s running game is what it is at this point of the year and that’s fine because they strength of this offense will be in the passing game. However, that doesn’t mean the run game stinks. Indiana found a good balance against both Connecticut and Michigan State using the running attack to pick up first downs and set up manageable second and third downs. That’s exactly what it needs to do. Would it be nice to see some explosive runs from Stevie Scott, Ronnie Walker and Sampson James? Of course, but this offense can live with consistent four and five yard runs for now. That’s how you can control the game. Move it at will on the ground and take shots down field with the aerial attack.
On the flip side, the Hoosiers defense needs to stop Rutgers rushing attack. It is the strength of their offense and if the Scarlet Knights get it going on the ground they can shorten the game and make it a much tougher game for the Hoosiers. IU’s defense is giving up 3.9 yards per carry, but they have also made some plays behind the line of scrimmage that has resulted in 107 lost yards for opponents. For the Hoosiers it all starts up front with the line. If they can get a push up front, the linebackers can make plays in space.