Will Indiana's letdown be bigger than Iowa's? – One might look at this weekend's game and think Indiana finds itself in a good spot.
After all, Iowa is coming off a huge win, drubbing then No. 5 Michigan State 37-6 at Kinnick Stadium. With the win, Iowa knocked the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten and into a tie with Ohio State atop the Big Ten standings, ½ game ahead of Iowa and Wisconsin. Iowa has a couple of big games in the following two weeks when it travels to Northwestern and then hosts Ohio State, games that should determine whether or not Iowa can claim at least a share of the Big Ten title.
That would seem to suggest that Indiana would be a game Iowa might overlook. While that could be the case, the Hoosiers could be poised for an emotional letdown as well.
After all, Indiana came into the season expecting to contend for a bowl game invitation. But barring a late-season flurry – which have been few and far between in the history of the IU football program – that isn't going to happen. The consensus was that IU needed to start the season 6-2 at best, or 5-3 at worst, to position itself for a possible invite. That hasn't happened, as IU has lost close games to Northwestern and Michigan and been routed by Illinois and Ohio State to start league play 0-4.
Only the most optimistic of observers would think a bowl trip is a realistic possibility at this point, and it's hard to imagine that the players don't feel the opportunity has slipped away as well. Will that realization show itself on Saturday? If it does, then this game has a chance to get ugly early.
Can Indiana figure out a way to win the turnover battle? – The Hoosiers woulda, coulda, shoulda beaten Iowa in Iowa City last year, for one reason - turnovers. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw five interceptions in the game – including four in the third quarter – to almost single-handedly hand the Hoosiers the game.
For Indiana to have a chance on Saturday, it's going to need some help from Iowa, and most likely that would come in the form of turnovers. But what are the chances of that happening? After throwing a league-high 15 picks a season ago, Stanzi has thrown only two this year. As a team Iowa has turned the ball over only five times, which is the second-lowest total in the FBS (Oregon State has 4). Iowa also ranks second nationally in turnover margin with a +12, or +1.5/game.
While Stanzi's improvement is a big reason for that number, so is Iowa's defense. Up front, they have athletic defensive linemen who can pressure quarterbacks into ill-advised throws. In the secondary, Iowa plays a zone coverage scheme that all but eliminates the big play and allows its safeties to react and make plays on the ball. That's why Shaun Prater ranks second in the Big Ten with three interceptions and why fellow safety Tyler Sash had six a season ago.
There hasn't been much that has happened in recent weeks to suggest Indiana will be able to win the turnover battle against Iowa this weekend, but it's an absolute must if the Hoosiers are going to keep this game close.
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
IOWA: Two Days and Counting
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