No. 10 Penn State (7-2, 5-1) is at Indiana (5-4, 3-3) Saturday. Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers are one of the more interesting outfits in the Big Ten, with a high-powered offense that gives them a puncher’s chance in every game.
To get the scoop on IU, we hit Peegs.com football writer Matt Weaver with five pressing questions. Read on for his expert opinions.
1. How important is it for Indiana to reach bowl eligibility for the second straight year, given that we are now six seasons into the Kevin Wilson era?
It is big for a couple reasons. First, it shows that the program is on the road to consistent success instead of last year just being a one-time thing. To go from a bowl game last year to no bowl game this year is not a killer, but it really halts a lot of momentum the program has going for it. The fan support is still so-so when it comes to Indiana football, so making a bowl game would be big for that because there are still many fans who are still in the “show me” group.
Second, it is important for recruiting. Recruits want to play for winning programs and programs that play in bowl games, and taking a step back makes it tougher to sell a program that can already be hard to sell on the recruiting trail. I don’t know that it would cause de-commitments from the current class, but it could make it tougher for them to land some guys they are still after in the 2017 class and possibly the 2018 class.
Lastly, those extra practices a team gets for a bowl game are just so important. It is almost like having a second spring practice, which is huge for player development. When IU made the Pinstripe Bowl last year it enabled the staff to work with the young players who were redshirting or not playing as much because during the season that is not really possible. Wilson has talked in the past about how crucial those extra practices are for the development of so many players and for the program as a whole.
2. What are QB Richard Lagow’s strengths and weaknesses?
Lagow is pretty similar to the quarterback he replaced in Nate Sudfeld. They are both big quarterbacks at around 6-foot-6 and 240 or so pounds. They both have big arms that can make any throw you need a quarterback to make. Neither one is going to really do much as far as running with the ball, although I would say Lagow moves a little bit better than Sudfeld did. Most of the time when he gets good protection and can comfortably stand in the pocket he is able to find open receivers and be effective.
The biggest issues for him have been the turnovers and occasionally his accuracy has not been what it needs to be. He is tied for the most interceptions in the Big Ten with 13, which is not a stat you want to be leading in. Now, not all of the picks have been on him, but the bottom-line is 13 picks are 13 picks, and a few of them have been very costly. If he doesn’t throw five interceptions against Wake Forest this team has six wins and is already bowl eligible. That was a game where two and possibly three of the interceptions were not necessarily on him, but they were critical because that was a five-point loss for IU and without them they win that game by double digits.
3. Can you explain Indiana’s defensive approach and how it has worked against the better teams on the schedule?
In the off-season Wilson made a change at defensive coordinator when he dismissed Brian Knorr and brought in Tom Allen from South Florida. To say he has made an impact on the Indiana defense would be a big understatement. He has totally transformed what used to be a very porous unit that played with little to no confidence into one that is aggressive and confident and one that has an identity. Under Wilson the IU defense has basically been at the bottom of the league in pretty much every statistical category, and in Allen’s first-year IU has moved up to right around the middle of the pack. It is not a great defense or an elite level defense, but it is vastly improved and it is more than good enough for this program to win six or more games if the offense does its job. That was usually not the case before this season.
Allen uses a 4-2-5 scheme similar to what TCU plays, where the fifth defensive back is basically a hybrid safety/linebacker. Their approach is to be an attacking defense that tries to get the ball back for the offense as much as they possibly can. For me the defensive improvement is more about the attitude and the mentality that Allen has instilled and that the players have bought into than it is about what they do as far as their scheme. Playing defense is all about playing with a ton of energy and passion, and that is not something that IU was doing enough of in the past and it is exactly what they are doing every week this year. They still have mistakes and breakdowns, but they are not happening with the frequency they have in the past, and when they do happen more times than not the defense has rebounded on either the next play or the next series. What his scheme has done is allowed IU to get more speed on the field with that fifth DB, and between their linebackers and their secondary they have some athletic players who are capable of making plays.
4. What the heck has happened to Griffin Oakes, who was such a reliable weapon for IU last season?
I wish I had an answer to what is going on with Griffin Oakes. He has basically lost his confidence much like a golfer loses his when he can’t hit the ball where he wants to and is all over the course. For lack of a better term, Oakes has the yips and the only person who can fix it is him. He just has to figure out a way to mentally get himself back on track because right now he is in a bad place with his kicking. Now, in fairness to him, he has been battling an injury to his kicking leg that has played a part in his struggles. It is not bad enough that he can’t kick, but it is uncomfortable enough that it has affected him. The bottom line is Oakes and the staff have to get the kicking game fixed because they can’t continue to leave points on the field when they are in field goal range.
5. How do you think this game is going to go and what is your score prediction?
I think it will be a competitive game that goes down to the wire. Penn State is playing awfully well right now and their offense is really hitting on all cylinders. If I felt better about the Indiana kicking game I might go with the Hoosiers in this one, but I don’t so I will say Penn State 31, Indiana 28.