Duke Now

Duke vs. Indiana: Ask an opposing beat writer, bowl edition

Nate Sudfeld #7 of the Indiana Hoosiers drops back to pass against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Indiana defeated Purdue 54-36.
Nate Sudfeld #7 of the Indiana Hoosiers drops back to pass against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Indiana defeated Purdue 54-36. Getty Images

Duke and Indiana haven’t met on the football field since the early 1980s, so it’s safe to say the Hoosiers present an unfamiliar challenge for the Blue Devils. Here to demystify Indiana is Zach Osterman, who covers the program for the Indianapolis Star. Check out his work for all the information on Indiana football and basketball that you could ever need.

It’s hard to know what to make of the Hoosiers – they are a 6-6 team, but had close losses to Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and, uh, Rutgers. Which is the real Indiana, the team that can compete with the best of the Big Ten, or the one that’s just a .500 squad?

Can they be both? The Rutgers debacle (25-point lead blown at home) aside, Indiana faced what turned out to be probably the Big Ten’s toughest schedule this season and still wound up in a bowl game. In hindsight, that qualifies as a pretty successful season in Bloomington. The Hoosiers are very much a team defined by offense, but that offense is near-elite this year, which has kept them in close games with basically everyone, when healthy.

At the same time, the defense was a big part of what kept Indiana from ever really getting over the line with any of those upsets. So again, Rutgers aside, I think Indiana is kind of both – good enough to go toe-to-toe with almost anybody, but only good enough to finish the job against lesser opponents.

What does the Hoosiers’ offense do best? And it’s no secret that Duke’s secondary has struggled to defend the downfield passing game – what are the chances that Indiana tries to exploit that?

The chances of the second are very, very good. Indiana leaned heavily on explosive plays this season, and plenty of those came in the passing game. Nate Sudfeld’s ability to throw a quality deep ball is one of his best strengths as a QB.

Indiana is pretty balanced offensively. Admittedly, Jordan Howard’s injury status could affect some of that, but it starts and ends with Sudfeld. He’s Indiana’s all-time leader in touchdowns and passing yards, and he has great command of (coach Kevin) Wilson’s system. The staff puts a lot of trust in him to make calls and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Indiana will run to set up the pass, but make no mistake, the offense does as Sudfeld does.

Do you think first-team all-Big Ten RB Jordan Howard will play in the bowl game, and if he does not, how will that affect Indiana’s offense?

I think it’s really 50-50 right now. He had a knee scope, but Indiana coach Kevin Wilson declines to share the severity of injuries most of the time. If he can’t go, Indiana has a reliable backup in Devine Redding (785 yards, eight touchdowns). Redding isn’t quite as productive as Howard, though he might be a little bit more explosive. His feel for gaps and developing holes is not as good, and he’s not as powerful. But he rushed for 274 yards in Howard’s stead in IU’s last two games, including long runs of 45 and 57 yards. If Howard can’t go – and right now, I would say that’s a definite possibility – Redding is a capable understudy.

It’s never good when a team ranks last in its conference in anything, especially a stat like total defense. Indiana gave up 507.3 yards per game – what caused all the struggles?

Ultimately, a lot of it came back what we thought it would in the preseason: the Hoosiers’ young and overmatched secondary. IU has nothing but freshmen and sophomores in its defensive backfield, and that includes walk-ons. It’s shown all season, and there’s little evidence it can be fixed before the bowl game. Added to that are the injury problems that have depleted an already undermannned unit, at both cornerback and safety. Whatever the numbers say, Indiana was decent at stopping the run and pressuring the passer. But its problems in pass defense made life too easy for too many opponents. Looking at the matchup with Duke, that’s obviously going to be a point of concern going into the bowl game.

You can offer a prediction if you want, but otherwise, what does Indiana need to do to win this game?

Score early and often. Indiana wins with offense. Even in its last two games, against Maryland sans a head coach and Purdue barreling toward a two-win season, the only way IU won was with an explosive offense that didn’t waste possessions. Duke is strong offensively as well, but Indiana very much needs this to be a high-scoring game, and probably one it controls with the scoreboard, forcing the Blue Devils to press to keep up. Hard to pin down a prediction, but I think it should be a competitive game with a ton of points.

Thanks to Zach for his time.

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley