The Utes cap their 2016 with a matchup in the Foster Farms Bowl against Big Ten opponent Indiana. UteZone caught up with Indiana insider Matt Weaver to get his thoughts on what to expect from the Hoosiers.
Indiana has had some turmoil with Kevin Wilson's departure amid allegations of player mistreatment. What has been the impact of Wilson's departure on the team? Is the team rallying around Tom Allen?
I think at first it was obviously difficult for the team, but they have had time to digest it and get behind Coach Allen and the rest of the staff. Not much has changed with the program other than there is someone different leading it. But the way they are going about things is still pretty similar to how they were doing it during the season under Coach Wilson.
I expect them to rally around Coach Allen and the rest of the staff. Even though Coach Allen has only been at IU since January he is very popular with the players, and especially with the defensive players since that is the side of the ball he has spent the majority of his time. The biggest question for IU in the bowl game without Wilson is what does the offensive play calling look like because he was heavily involved in that.
Indiana didn't beat a Big Ten team with a winning record, but they did play several high profile teams close. What were the main reasons behind Indiana's inability to beat the better teams in the Big Ten?
Their biggest issues were on offense and on special teams. Offensively they were very poor in the red zone as they were 126th out of 128 teams this season. They had too many mistakes and turnovers that cost them points. It also didn’t help that the staff seemed to lose confidence in field goal kicker Griffin Oakes during the season. Because of that they would often go for it in the scoring zone instead of taking the points.
Besides the issues with the field goal kicking there were also issues with the punt team on special teams. They had punts blocked a few different times, and while their punter, Joseph Gedeon, was pretty good at pooch punting, he struggled to ever flip the field. Defensively IU played well enough to get 8 or 9 wins, but the offense and special teams let them down far too many times. It is hard to beat good teams when you are turning the ball over, and not getting points in the red zone.
What is the defining characteristic of Indiana's offense and who are the three players Ute fans should be most aware of?
The defining characteristic for the Indiana offense is they are a tempo offense. They like to play fast, especially when they have a defense on their heels. It is more of a passing offense than a running offense, but injuries and mistakes from QB Richard Lagow forced them to be a little more conservative offensively than they’ve been in the past. Lagow, the quarterback, is someone to know. He is a big, tall pocket-passer that has an NFL type arm. He can make any throw that a QB needs to make, but he turned the ball over way too much this season. When he is on and playing well he can be very good, but when he is off it can be ugly for the Hoosiers.
Running back Devine Redding is another name to know. He had rushed for 1,000 yards for the second season in a row. He is not the most physically gifted running back, but he runs very hard and he isn’t afraid to be run between the tackles and be physical. He is probably not going to bust a lot of big runs, but he is a solid back that can get four or five yards a pop.
Wide receiver Nick Westbrook is the third name to keep an eye on. He is a sophomore from Florida that played last year but put up very modest stats. He was forced to step up this season when Indiana’s leading receiver from a year ago, Simmie Cobbs, went down in game two with a season-ending injury. Westbrook did a nice job of filling in for Cobbs and being a big play guy for the IIU passing attack. He is still a work in process, and physical play can get make things tough for him, but he has good size and athleticism.
What are Indiana's defensive strengths? Who are the top playmakers on the defensive side of the ball?
The Indiana defense is an attacking unit that has good athletes at linebacker and in the secondary. Their defensive line is not overly talented, but it has played better than expected this season. The biggest thing the IU defense has done this year when compared to past years is limit big plays, and force teams to kick field goals when they got in the red zone. It is still not an elite defense, but it is very much improved from previous seasons.
On the defensive line senior Ralph Green is a guy to watch. He is a massive guy at around 6’5 and 320 or so pounds. He has had a pretty solid senior season, and he will need to play well in the bowl game. At linebacker Tegray Scales was named a Second Team All-American by SI.com. He led Indiana and the Big Ten in tackles as he had an outstanding season. He also racked up a number of tackles for loss. Scales looks like a future NFL player, and IU will need him to step up against Utah and their running game. In the secondary Rashard Fant is a name to know. He is a redshirt junior that is one of the top corners nationally in pass break-ups. He is not the biggest guy, but he has very good cover skills, and he has become a much better tackler this year. I would expect him to be lined up against the top wideout for the Utes tomorrow night.
What is your prediction for the game, including the score?
I think this will be a close game that will come down to which team can win the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and who can get touchdowns when they are inside the other team’s 20-yard line. IU is about a touchdown underdog and not many people are giving them a chance, but I have a feeling they will play well. I will say Indiana 31 – Utah 27.