Win the Turnover Battle – Indiana enters this weekend's contest on an emotional high after last week's come-from-behind, 34-32 win at Illinois. Not only did Indiana end a three-game losing streak, but it also ended a 17-game, five-year Big Ten road losing streak. To do all of that, the Hoosiers had to overcome an 18-point deficit two minutes into the second quarter.
As Terry Hoeppner said Tuesday, "the higher the mountain, the better the view…"
That's plenty to be proud of, but the Hoosiers are going to need more than that boost in self-confidence to knock off the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes. Iowa arrives in Bloomington with a 5-1 mark, with its only blemish being a 21-point setback to No. 1 Ohio State. But Coach Kirk Ferentz's squad bounced back in a big way last weekend, pounding Purdue 47-17 to serve notice the Hawkeyes are still one of the nation's elite teams.
For the Hoosiers to spring the upset, they'll need create some additional scoring opportunities through turnovers. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over four times against Ohio State - including three Drew Tate interceptions – which all but ended any hopes they had of knocking off the Buckeyes. Indiana will need to either force some Iowa miscues or be in the right spot at the right time when Iowa puts the ball on the turf if it hopes to get its first win over a ranked team since 2004 (Oregon, Minnesota).
Yards After the Catch- Iowa's defensive scheme has long been predicated on the "bend but don't break" philosophy. IU quarterback Kellen Lewis will see plenty of zone coverage Saturday as Iowa's secondary looks to keep the ball and IU's wideouts in front of them and then wrap them up before they can produce any big gains.
Lewis needs to take what the defense gives him and not force the ball downfield, but it will be up to the Hoosier wideouts to do something after the catch. That's what makes the loss of Ray Fisher such a big loss this weekend. The fleet-footed true freshman is the team's third-leading receiver with 16 catches for 167 yards, and he's been lost indefinitely with a wrist injury. He's arguably the team's most elusive in the open field, which would have made him an intriguing target for Lewis out of the slot.
With Fisher unavailable, it will be up to players such as Andrew Means, Nick Polk, James Hardy and James Bailey to turn a couple of short receptions into the sort of big gainers IU is going to need to keep up with the Hawkeyes.
Keep Marcus Thigpen involved- The Hoosiers' sophomore garnered some national attention last weekend with his 311 all-purpose yardage afternoon against the Illini. That included a third kickoff return for a touchdown this season, tying the Big Ten record in the category.
Rest assured the Iowa coaching staff took notice as well, and they'll likely come up with a strategy to keep Thigpen from getting his hands on the ball on kickoffs. Whether that's pooching its kickoffs or employing another strategy, Iowa doesn't want to allow Thigpen to get a head of steam and break another big return Saturday.
If Iowa does manage to limit Thigpen's effectiveness on kickoffs, the IU coaches still need to figure out another way to allow him to have a big impact on the game's outcome. He'll certainly get his share of carries at tailback, but Iowa is giving up only 131.3 yards/game on the ground. Indiana needs to find a way to get the ball in Thigpen's hands in space and allow him the opportunity to make another big play or two.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Things IU Must Do
On Thursday – Two Key Matchups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
Three Days and Counting...
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