Tackle- Saying it is easier than doing it, and the Hoosiers struggled wrapping up ball carriers a week ago. Everyone with the IU program knows a performance similar to the one turned in at Spartan Stadium will mean big plays for the Gopher offense, and a long afternoon for an Indiana team that faces a virtual must-win to keep its bowl hopes viable.
Tackling is always a point of emphasis for any football team, but that's been particularly true this week. Wednesday's practice was as hard-hitting a session as Indiana has had in some time, with ball carriers being popped along the sidelines and receivers being hammered by defensive backs when catching balls over the middle.
"Tackling is No. 1 this week," said co-defensive coordinator Brian George. "It is the point of emphasis."
It's particularly important against Minnesota offense that averages 501.2 yards/game (including 284.5/game on the ground) and is all about the big play. The Gophers have totaled 14 touchdowns this season of 25 yards or more, including 10 in the running game. Big Ten rushing leader Laurence Maroney has produced touchdowns runs of 67, 73 and 93 yards this season, and he can turned one missed tackle into a touchdown in a hurry. He's been especially dangerous in the first halves of games this season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark by halftime in six of Minnesota's eight games.
Indiana's task has been made more difficult with the losses of middle linebacker John Pannozzo and safety Aaron Mitchell, two of the team's biggest hitters and best defenders against the run. The staff will be counting on bigger contributions from players like Josh Moore, Jake Powers and Eric McClurg to slow down one of the league's most lethal offenses.
Move the ball on the ground and control the clock -The bad news is the Indiana offense has been inconsistent establishing a ground game. The good news is the Gophers have been consistently bad against the run.
Minnesota surrenders nearly 160 yards/game on the ground, including 190/game since conference play opened. Every Big Ten team's tailback has rushed for at least 100 yards against the Gophers this season, so the opportunity will be there for Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington to have success – so long as Indiana remains in the game and running the ball remains an option.
While last weekend's 31-point setback to Michigan State didn't include many highlights, one of the positives was some improvement in the run blocking of the IU offensive line and the running of Taylor and Washington. Indiana ran for 137 yards on 31 carries, better than four yards/carry. The shuffled offensive line – which included Isaac Sowells, Adam Hines, Chris Mangiero, Justin Frye and Scott Anderson from left to right – had a great deal more success giving the tailbacks an opportunity to get past the first wave of defenders and move the ball on the ground.
Terry Hoeppner said at his weekly press conference that a good thing for his team is that they can look at last year's 30-21 win over the Gophers as proof that the team has a shot at getting its fourth win in five tries at Memorial Stadium this season. Last year's contest also should provide a recipe for success as well. Indiana ran for 123 of its season-high 238 rushing yards in the fourth quarter in last year's win. That included an 11-play drive that consumed the game's final 5:45 off the clock. Clinging to the 30-21 lead, Indiana ran the ball 11 straight times, picked up four first downs, and never let the Gopher offense touch the ball again.
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
Two Days and Counting...
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