When Indiana has the ball
The strength of this Indiana team is undeniably on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld loves to throw the ball deep, which will challenge a Duke secondary that struggled mightily down the stretch. The Hoosiers had the best passing offense (285.9 yards per game) in the Big Ten. Indiana also has a running game that will keep the Blue Devils’ defense honest, whether its first-team all-Big Ten running back Jordan Howard (who is questionable with a knee injury) or backup Devine Redding, who ran for 274 yards in the Hoosiers’ final two games. Indiana also has two all-American offensive linemen in left tackle Jason Spriggs and right guard Dan Feeney.
The Blue Devils’ defense will be missing ACC defensive player of the year Jeremy Cash, and the safety’s absence will be felt most acutely when trying to stop the run or getting pressure on Sudfeld. DeVon Edwards will move from his safety spot to corner for the game, so Duke’s replacement safeties (Corbin McCarthy and Phillip Carter) will likely be tested often.
When Duke has the ball
Indiana has the worst pass defense in the nation, allowing 326.3 yards per game through the air. Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk will need to be accurate with his passes in order to take advantage. He has at least one reliable target in senior Max McCaffrey (48 catches, 601 yards). This matchup provides a great opportunity for one of Duke’s speedier receivers — Anthony Nash, T.J. Rahming or Chris Taylor – to have a breakout game and take that momentum into the spring.
This is offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s last game with the Blue Devils, as he’s leaving Duke to take over as ECU’s head coach. Don’t expect him to hold anything back.
Indiana boasts first-team all-Big Ten kicker Griffin Oakes, who connected on 22 of his 25 attempts this year (88 percent). His longest kick was a 51-yarder in the Hoosiers’ 48-41 double overtime loss to Michigan. Former walk-on Mitchell Paige returned two punts for touchdowns this year (91 yards against Western Kentucky and 51 yards against Michigan).
Duke has its own mostly reliable kicker in Ross Martin, who went 23-for-27 this year (85.2 percent) and has a range that extends beyond 50 yards. And DeVon Edwards is as good of a kickoff return man (NCAA-best three touchdowns this season) as there is in the country. Of course, covering kickoffs hasn’t been a given for Duke this year, as both Northwestern and (infamously) Miami returned kicks for touchdowns.
This is Indiana’s first bowl game since 2007, and the trip might have saved head coach Kevin Wilson’s job. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are going to a bowl for the fourth straight year – a first in program history – but still haven’t won one since the 1961 Cotton Bowl. Duke players and coaches are tired of hearing about the losing streak, and the coaches have been particularly pleased with how preparation has gone thus far.
Players to watch
T.J. Rahming, 5-10, 165 pounds, WR, Fr., Duke: Given Indiana’s weakness against the pass, Duke needs Rahming to test the Hoosiers deep. Rahming finished the regular season strong, catching 12 passes for 190 yards at Virginia and seven for 63 at Wake Forest.
Simmie Cobbs, 6-4, 212 pounds, WR, So., Indiana: The Hoosiers’ leading receiver (54 receptions, 914 yards, four touchdowns) could have a field day against the Duke secondary.