Game day's eve is upon us and Indiana is looking at its third straight game where anyone and everyone is saying this game will make a statement. I guess we should probably just quit calling each game a statement game and make this a statement season. As pretty much the rest of the schedule is going to be making one announcement or another about the direction of Indiana football.
That being said, this game goes a long way to making sure the Hoosiers are playing past Thanksgiving. Going 3-1 in the non-conference isn't necessary to get to a bowl game, but 4-4 in the conference is no cake walk. Even when some teams on the schedule like Purdue, Illinois, and Minnesota haven't looked to be world beaters, they're still going to put up resistance. To get to four that means you've got to take Penn State out next weekend when they come to town or go get Michigan State in East Lansing. Neither are simple tasks. So this is it, the easiest way to 6 wins goes through the Missouri Tigers.
As covered earlier in the week, Missouri is a bit of a copy of Indiana football. They have a dynamic and explosive offense that can put up points with the best of them and they have a somewhat anemic defense that no one is really sure on whether they can be serviceable or not. Tomorrow night is a test of both defense's serviceability. We're likely going to see a hard fought battle where the offenses move the ball and the defenses try to not break as they bend.
On offense, we're looking at a Nate Sudfeld that is looking to prove he belongs in the conversation of not only the one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, but perhaps one of the best 25 in the nation. It's kind of interesting how he's gone from a three way battle to clearly superior than the other options. If you keep an eye out, you're already starting to see editorials and blogs popping up talking about what he's doing. He's fantastic and will be looking to continue his hot start against a Missouri defense that is very questionable at the moment.
Missouri fans will tell you they have one very good corner in EJ Gaines and then a bunch of question marks. Of course, we all know that one corner isn't enough against this passing attack. The key for this offense is to play mistake free football. The Missouri defense isn't going to be able to handle everyone so Sudfeld and company have to be patient and take what the defense gives you. This game will likely come down to which offense makes the least mistakes. That means there's a lot of pressure on the offense to play smart football. Winning the turnover differential likely wins the game.
Speaking of turnovers, can the defense continue their strong effort from last week into this? Bowling Green's spread offense is nothing to sneeze at. It most certainly isn't the best offense we'll see all year, but for the most part the Indiana defense kept them on lock down only allowing one field goal and ~230 yards on the 8 drives they weren't in prevent defense. That performance has to find the field tomorrow as well. Missouri is a more explosive offense than Bowling Green and we're going to see a more potent run attack.
Everything on Saturday for Indiana's defense will likely stop and start at the defensive line. Missouri is going to try and get their guys into space, so the defense has to get some push and start plays in their backfield. We also know that Missouri QB James Franklin is more than happy to take off running. He was their leading rusher in their last game against a pesky Toledo team and if Indiana can get into the backfield he'll likely tuck the ball and try to run instead of throwing it away.
That means a lot will be relying on TJ Simmons, Flo Hardin and David Cooper to remain disciplined and ready to pursue when Franklin decides to take off. Truly that is where this defense stops and starts is with disciplined linebackers and a line that can get push. This may sound strange to Indiana fans, but I have confidence in the secondary. Certainly, they aren't where they need to be either as at least twice a game they've let a receiver behind them uncovered, but they're much better than we've seen in quite some time at Indiana.
If Indiana's defense can just provide enough resistance to force a few punts or a turnover or two, I think Indiana can walk away from this game victorious. If they can do it on an early drive or two, there's potential for Indiana to run away with this game. Missouri is still at their best when they're controlling a game with the run. If you force them into passing situations early, there's a chance this could get out of hand. Of course, Indiana fans know the same can be said about our Hoosiers from that one game a few weeks ago against that team.
So in short the game plan should be, don't rush on offense and take what you can get while taking care of the ball. Get some decent push up front on defense and make sure the linebackers stay home. And finally, don't spot them 17 points. Truly it's that easy. Someone should pay me to do this for their program. In the end, I think this game is a tossup but since this is an Indiana blog, I'm going to go ahead and take the optimistic result in a toss-up. Indiana 42 - Missouri 38