IU WR James Hardy vs. Iowa's Zone Coverage - If Indiana is going to go into Iowa City and come out with a victory, it's going to need a huge game from James Hardy.
The Hoosiers' 6'7" wideout has been very good this season, but has yet to turn in a dominant performance. While he ranks second on the team with 16 receptions and leads with 287 receiving yards and six touchdowns, he's going to need to do a whole lot more than the four receptions and 72 yards he's been averaging the first four weeks of the season. He's arguably the team's best offensive player and unquestionably the team's toughest match-up, and Indiana needs to exploit that fact in Iowa City.
The good news is Hardy has had his way with Iowa in each of the past two seasons. Last season he caught eight passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns in IU's 31-28 win, and in 2005 he had a career-high 12 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown in Iowa's 38-21 victory. He'll need to put up those kind of numbers to give the Hoosiers a chance.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz hasn't figured out a way to slow down Hardy yet, which he freely admits.
"You're probably asking the wrong guy on (how to slow down Hardy), because we're 0 for 2 right now," Ferentz said. "He's a tough match-up. They do a good job putting him in good position. But he's a good player, he's a guy with good size, speed, he fights for the football, and we seem to bring the best out of him. He's played two very excellent games against us."
Hardy will be matched up against Iowa's zone coverage, which Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker uses almost exclusively. To be successful it requires patience, as Iowa doesn't put itself in many one-on-one situations where wideouts can get deep. But Hardy has such a size advantage that he can go up and make a play against tight coverage. To beat a good team on the road you need your best players to come up big, so look for the Hoosiers to make a concerted effort to give him a chance to do that this weekend.
IU CBs Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors vs. Iowa WRs James Cleveland, Colin Sandeman, Paul Chaney and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos – It's likely Iowa's running game and not the passing attack that concerns IU's defensive coaches the most, but that's why Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors will be so important to the outcome of Saturday's contest.
Why? Because like most of Iowa's foes this season, Indiana will likely commit eight men to the box in an effort to slow down Iowa tailbacks Albert Young and Damian Sims. It's a formula that's worked for most of the Hawkeyes' opponents, especially Iowa State and Wisconsin, which gave up 115 yards and 59 yards on the ground, respectively, while beating Ferentz's squad. If the Hoosiers are going to be successful this weekend, they know they can't allow Young and Sims to get untracked and chew up huge chunks of yardage.
So if Hoosier strong safety Austin Thomas is constantly creeping up to the line to combat the run, it's going to be up to Porter and Majors to hold up in man-to-man coverage against Iowa's crop of freshmen wideouts. Due to a couple of off-season suspensions and a pair of in-season injuries, Iowa has been forced to go with a handful of unproven commodities out wide. Of the wideouts expected to play, Cleveland and Johnson-Koulianos are tops in terms of productivity, having caught eight passes apiece. Sandeman, meanwhile, is a true freshman who is expected to start despite catching only three passes this season.
They're virtual unknowns to Big Ten football fans at this point in their careers, and it's important that IU's cornerbacks keep it that way Saturday.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
IOWA: Two Days and Counting
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