Moving the ball through the air has been a strong suit for the Indiana offense in its last two games, averaging 386 passing yards per game. However, that ability alone hasn’t translated to winning games. When the Hoosiers were at their best and winning games their running game was pacing the offense and helping to create easier third down conversions.
A struggle to rush the ball has gone along with a struggle to convert on third downs. A major factor to both of these struggles has been the recent injury problems faced by Indiana running back Jordan Howard.
“I think with Jordan early again, we were having a lot more third and manageable,” Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. “We’ve gotten a little bit, with his injury a little bit more pass-oriented, which gets you more behind chains with long yardage.”
In the four games that Howard has been at full health the team is undefeated and has averaged 237 yards on the ground. Without him at full health, the team is winless and averaging only 125 yards rushing. The ability to run the ball takes the strain off of the passing offense and creates easier third-down conversion opportunities for the offense. The Hoosiers are converting at 44% with Howard fully able to go and only 29% in the games that he hasn’t played in or has been injured.
Howard, who played injured against Michigan State, was able to finish the game without any setbacks. With the bye week to further heal his ankle, it appears that he will be at full strength for Saturday’s game against the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes. His return could give Indiana the boost it needs to get back to its winning ways, but it will be no easy task.
The two areas that Indiana has struggled with recently on offense are both major strengths of the Hawkeye’s defense. They come into Saturday’s game with the number four run defense in the country that allows an average of only 86 rushing yards per game. This rush defense has helped them limit opponents to a third-down conversion rate of only 34%.
The Hoosiers have a chance to get a very big win for the program and for the season, but putting out a one dimensional offense will greatly diminish that chance. If the team is going to be able to pull off the upset, the run attack will almost certainly have to improve on its recent struggles against an exception run defense.
“Even though they load up the box to stop the run we still have to find ways to run the ball.” Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. “We need to have a good mix, but we for sure need to find a way to run the ball.”