The Utes are closing out their 2016 season against the Indiana Hoosiers in the Foster Farms Bowl. To prepare for Wednesday’s matchup between the Pac-12 and the Big 10, The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke to Jordan Guskey, and IU football reporter for the Indiana Daily Student to get insight into Indiana’s squad.
Q: After about a month off, how does Indiana look right now, especially after Kevin Wilson resigned?
JG: IU has appeared to take Kevin Wilson’s resignation in stride. The allegations surrounding his departure weren’t pretty, but the staff and players haven’t appeared to let any of it hinder their bowl preparation. Tom Allen’s promotion from defensive coordinator to head coach and the experience the team gained from the bowl appearance last year have certainly aided that. Both sides of the ball appear to be confident heading into the bowl game, and the Hoosiers seem to be enjoying themselves in what is for many their first ever trip to California. The defense meets Utah on the heels of one of the best defensive campaigns by an IU squad in years, and will look to build on that, while the offense has room to improve after a 2016 season that left much to be desired.
Q: The Hoosiers were barely bowl eligible. What went right in that final game against Purdue?
JG: Honestly, not a whole lot. IU struggled to move the ball on offense at various points throughout the contest, and Richard Lagow threw three interceptions to boot. The JUCO product threw for the least amount of yards he had all season long, 117, in what was his first under center with the Hoosiers, and on the ground it took IU 54 attempts to get 152 yards. That’s an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Defensively IU did force three turnovers, tally four sacks, register 11 tackles for loss and hold Purdue to 42 yards rushing, but the 225 yards Boilermaker David Blough had through the air could have been 350 or more if he connected just a couple more of his deep balls. IU escaped the rivalry game with a two-point win, but very easily could have found itself at 5-7 instead of 6-6.
Q: What have been some of the biggest hurdles for this team?
JG: IU has overcome two major hurdles in 2016: a new defense and a changing of the guard on offense. Tom Allen brought new life to a defense that had occupied the cellar of the Big Ten and nation for much of the past few years, but no one expected it to have arguably the best turnaround of any defensive unit in the nation. Freshmen like husky Marcelino Ball and cornerback A’Shon Riggins played like veterans at times, and veterans took up the mantle of those who left in 2015 and turned the unit into the pride of IU football. Offensively IU had to replace key pieces like running back Jordan Howard, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and left tackle Jason Spriggs — all three are on NFL rosters. Much of the supporting cast returned, but there were obvious growing pains and the inability of those, like Lagow and running back Devine Redding, to produce consistently at a high level hurt IU and cost it wins.
Q: Who/what should Utah be worried about?
JG: Utah should be worried about focusing too much on any one or two receivers. Mitchell Paige, Ricky Jones and Nick Westbrook are Lagow’s top three targets. Westbrook boasting the third-most catches and 22 more than the next man, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who can hurt opposing defenses. There’s also Luke Timian, Camion Patrick and Donovan Hale, not to mention Redding or Devonte Williams out of the backfield. When Lagow is comfortable in the pocket he can find his man down field, and if the usual suspects are covered, that means guys like Timian and Hale will step in until the defense is forced to adjust. Six different IU receivers have at least one reception of at least 40 yards.
Q: Who/what is Indiana focusing a lot of its efforts on?
JG: IU’s focus has to be on the line of scrimmage. If its offensive line, which has battled injuries this season, can’t get enough of a push on a sturdy and high-performing Utah defensive line, neither IU’s rushing or passing attacks will be able to find any rhythm. If the offensive line can’t provide a solid basis for Redding and others on the ground, IU’s offense will become one-dimensional. IU averages 93.3 rushing yards and 295.8 passing yards when it loses, and 217 rushing yards and 260 passing yards when it wins. On the defensive side of the ball, if Ralph Green III, Nate Hoff and others can create enough havoc linebackers like Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver will be able to find their way into the backfield and IU’s young secondary will become comfortable in coverage earlier in the game.
Q: Who do you think will win? And why?
JG: Utah will beat IU in a close, 24-20 overtime victory. IU’s defense will continue to build off a surprisingly strong regular season and keep a balanced Utah offense at bay. The Hoosiers’ offense, however, will struggle against the Utes’ pass rush and struggle to find any semblance of balance. IU’s defense will give it a chance to win, but finally break in overtime.