What's left in the tank for this Indiana football team? – Iowa's football team will clearly test Indiana on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Despite a recent rash of injuries, Iowa still boasts a turnover-producing defense, excellence in the special teams, and an offense that has been just good enough to help the Hawkeyes to their first 8-0 start in school history.
But as big as those challenges are – and mind you, they are significant – the biggest test might be to Indiana's character after last weekend's 29-28 loss to Northwestern.
It wasn't just that Indiana lost to the Wildcats. After all, an IU team hasn't won in Evanston since Bill Mallory guided the 1993 Independence Bowl squad to a victory at Dyche Stadium. But it was how the Hoosiers lost. Indiana caught everyone – including themselves – by surprise by darting to a 28-3 lead midway through the second quarter. The Hoosiers did it with big plays on offense, big plays on special teams, and a defense that limited Northwestern to just 38 total yards in the opening quarter.
But it all changed from there. Despite turning the ball over three times in the second half, Northwestern still managed to score 26 unanswered points, capped by a 19-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Indiana was done in by an unproductive offense, a couple of failed fourth down conversion attempts, and the inability to preserve any of its second-half timeouts that could have given Bill Lynch's team an opportunity at a final drive.
Considering how Indiana lost and what the game meant for Indiana's bowl hopes, it will be a significant challenge to have Indiana mentally ready for the undefeated Hawkeyes. Indiana's coaches and players have said all the right things throughout the week about turning the proverbial page, but saying it and doing it are two completely different things.
Can Indiana's offensive line give Ben Chappell the time he'll need, and open enough holes for Darius Willis to have a significant impact on this game? – Statistics can be deceptive. As Indiana prepares for this contest, it goes into the game having surrendered only nine sacks in eight games. That ranks the Hoosiers first in the Big Ten, and would suggest that Chappell has generally had all the time needed to try to pick apart opposing defenses.
But that hasn't been the case, particularly during the last four weeks. Chappell has instead been adept at avoiding sacks when faced with visible pressure, and he's also found himself getting rid of balls quicker than he might like because of impending pressure. While it's good that Indiana isn't going to approach the 28 sacks that it gave up a year ago, those squandered downs and wasted opportunities have slowed an IU offense that has some very legitimate playmakers in Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher, Mitchell Evans and Darius Willis.
Now, Indiana's offensive line will go up against an Iowa defensive front that isn't big in stature (it averages only 6'3" and 270 pounds), but will create problems due to its ability to shoot gaps and create havoc in the backfield. Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard have combined for 27 tackles for loss, and they'll test Indiana's offensive line. While Binns and Clayborn will be a load for Rodger Saffold and James Brewer to contend with, Klug and Ballard will stunt on the inside and create their own share of problems.
If Indiana's offensive line can't hold its own against Iowa's defensive front, Willis will be a non-factor, Chappell will be ineffective at best and turnover prone at worst, and the Hoosiers will be in for a long afternoon against the nation's seventh-ranked team.
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
IOWA: Two Days and Counting
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