MINN TB Laurence Maroney vs. Indiana Front Seven- Indiana wants to make sure that it's able to contain Maroney with a front seven, and avoid committing an eighth man to the box. That's easier said than done, but slowing down Minnesota starts with slowing down Maroney.
The 5-11, 205-pound tailback is most dangerous once he gets past the first wave of defenders and gets into space. He's a big-play back who has three 80-plus yard touchdown runs in his career, including a 93-yard touchdown scamper against Wisconsin last month. He's also eclipsed the 200-yard mark three times this season, including a 258-yard effort against Wisconsin.
Indiana's defenders will have to stay on their feet against a Minnesota offensive line that will try to cut them and ultimately take away their aggressiveness. Leading the way for the Minnesota line will be guard Mark Setterstrom and center Greg Eslinger, two of the nation's best offensive linemen.
Indiana knocked off the Gophers last year, thanks in large part to a defensive gameplan that had eight men in the box, forcing Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito to try to beat IU by throwing the ball. Cupito was off target most of the day, completing only 11-of-30 passes for 182 yards. Cupito has been much better this season, though, so Indiana will be hard pressed to play man coverage all day and get away with it.
Special Teams- Indiana not only has to be a whole lot better with its kicking game, it needs to win this battle on Saturday.
Indiana's special teams has been woeful in the past two weeks, giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown against Michigan State and a punt return for a score against Ohio State. The Buckeyes' Ted Ginn would have had two returns for scores if not for a personal foul penalty away from the ball, so Indiana's coverage teams have left a whole lot to be desired. The kicking hasn't been a whole lot better, as Tyson Beattie has seen his punting average dip to 40.6, and the coaching staff has yet to develop enough confidence in Joe Kleinsmith to let him attempt a field goal outside of 40 yards.
There is good news for the Hoosiers, though. Minnesota hasn't been a whole lot better. The Gophers have given up a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, and they also had a punt blocked and returned for a score as well. That occurred in the final minute of the Wisconsin game when punter Justin Kucek dropped the snap and then opted to try to pick the ball up and punt it. It was smothered by the Badgers, who then picked it up and returned it for the game-deciding score.
Minnesota's kicking game has been extremely suspect. Kucek is averaging only 39.2 yards/punt, and placekicker Jason Giannini has missed five extra points this season. Giannini has been solid on field goals (13-of-17, including a long of 49), but there have obviously been some meltdowns on point after attempts. Unlike the Ohio State game with Josh Huston, Indiana will also have the opportunity to return Giannini's kickoffs. The Gopher kicker has had only two touchbacks in 48 kickoffs, so Jahkeen Gilmore and/or Lance Bennett will get chances to make plays.
IU CBs Tracy Porter/Leslie Majors vs. MINN WRs Ernie Wheelwright/Jared Ellerson- While Indiana won't play as much man coverage as it did a year ago in its upset win over the Gophers, there will be plenty of times that IU's corners will be locked up one-on-one, and they have to be better than they've been in recent weeks.
A year ago, Indiana had success because Cupito struggled to put the ball on target. Part of the reason for that, though, was last year's game was played in unusually windy conditions, and Minnesota's passing game is all about stretching teams vertically. Cupito wound up just 11-of-30 on the afternoon, missing plenty of open targets downfield in Bloomington.
While some more errant Cupito throws would be helpful, it's not something Indiana can count on. Cupito is third in the Big Ten in passing yards/game (229.1), and he's averaging a Big Ten-best 14.9 yards/completion. Wide receivers Logan Payne (23 catches, 350 yards), Wheelwright (21 catches, 347 yards) and Ellerson (18 catches, 431 yards) are all averaging better than 15 yards/reception, with Ellerson averaging an eye-opening 23.9.
When Cupito looks deep – which he will do on several occasions – Porter and Majors can't let the Gopher wideouts get behind them. Those sorts of big plays in the passing game will ruin any chance Indiana has in containing a Gopher offense that averages more than 500 yards per outing.
Chris Taylor/Yamar Washington vs. Minnesota Front Seven-There are games when it's important for IU to move the ball on the ground and others when it's not as critical. This weekend, though, it's imperative that the Hoosiers have success with its ground game.
The good news is that Indiana is going up against a Gopher defense that hasn't been overly stout against the run. Minnesota surrenders 158.9 yards/game rushing and has given up 14 touchdowns. Minnesota's run defense has been even shoddier since conference play began (197.0 yards/game), and every Big Ten team has had a running back ran for at least 100 yards against the Gophers. Penn State actually had two go over 100 yards, as tailback Tony Hunt had 114 and quarterback Michael Robinson had 112.
Minnesota is big up the middle with 6-5, 310-pound senior Austin Montgomery and 6-6, 295-pound senior Mark Losli manning the tackle positions, but that hasn't kept league foes from piling up big yardage on the ground. It's a recipe that worked to perfection a year ago for the Hoosiers, as they ran for a season-high 238 yards on 51 carries, including a 22-carry, 110-yard day for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. That helped Indiana win the time of possession battle, keep the Gopher offense on the sidelines, and ultimately pull the upset over the then 23rd ranked Gophers.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Four Days And Counting...
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