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Game Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

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The Indiana Hoosiers are playing the Iowa Hawkeyes! It's a football game! It definitely is; we checked!

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Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

GAME INFO:

Who? Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1 (1-0), #49 Sagarin, #54 F/+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (3-2 (0-1), #58 Sagarin, #68 F/+)

Where / When? Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa; Noon.

TV / Radio? ESPNU / WatchESPN, IU Radio Network (Sirius 146, XM 201)

Tickets? From $65 through Iowa's website ($25 if you're under 18), and from $54.90 through StubHub.

What's Vegas Saying? Indiana +3, 55.5 o/u

__________________________________

Is a bowl still probable?

In our preseason prediction manifesto I broke down the Hoosiers' path to eight wins, but the way the games were categorized, it works just as easy for a bowl. Because even the biggest optimists here can admit that 8 wins is probably not in the cards after dropping two winnable games to Bowling Green and Maryland.

Gotta Have Wins: Indiana State, @ Bowling Green, North Texas, @ Rutgers, Purdue.

Given these were preseason prognostications, we didn't have nearly as much info about teams as we do now. I can't imagine classifying playing Rutgers in Piscataway as a "gotta have win" because it's just not going to be that easy. So we can slide that over to the other tier coming up. Meaning of the five games we HAD TO HAVE, we've one two, lost one and reclassified another. Leaving us with, at best, three wins out of this group; not overwhelmingly great.

Now, thankfully, the Mizzou win is in the books and can't ever be taken from us. I called the league offices of both the B1G and the SEC to verify. So assuming nothing incredibly dumb happens against Purdue, the Hoosiers need two wins out of this group:

Need Two: @ Iowa, Michigan State, @ Michigan, Penn State, @ Rutgers, @ Ohio State.

Let's protect our hearts here, and immediately remove MSU and OSU from the list of possibilities. It's not that it's impossible (but it probably is), but the unlikeliness means it's best to not consider any paths to the postseason that involve toppling one of those teams.

So you've got, essentially, four shots to win two and three are coming up in the next month and three are on the road. There's nothing eminently terrifying about Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, or Rutgers. Like the rest of the B1G behind the contenders, these teams are flawed in big ways. Which could lead to a pretty embarrassing interesting conference season as these teams start to play each other.

I say all this to say this: if the Indiana Hoosiers want to go bowling, they can practically put themselves in the driver's seat with a win on Saturday. I know that, for IU, the road is dark and full of terrors, but if they want some sort of postseason for the first time since 2007, they'll need to win a conference road game.

Also a quick note: every writer picked Iowa to score 24 points in this game back in August. I found that to be fascinating.

We've played Iowa pretty tough the past few times out, yeah?

Sure. Hell, we beat them back in 2012 to keep the most improbable / hilarious / sad Rose Bowl hunt in the history of B1G football alive. And prior to that, they delivered two of the more gut-punching losses I experienced as a student. A lot of people will point to that huge comeback in 2009 (our last visit to Kinnick) as the worst, but I posit the following year back in Bloomington as the worst of the two.

Yes, the game in Iowa City in 2009 was awful for a lot of reasons. IU had a big lead that could have been made bigger save a couple, er, DUBIOUS reviews of Terrance Turner touchdowns. And maybe if Ben Chappell's pass doesn't ping pong off every single player on the field and a handful on the sidelines, Tyler Sash doesn't end up running it back for a touchdown and turn the momentum on its head.

Whatever.

I think that game is topped by the 2010 version, in which Damarlo Belcher dropped a picture perfect pass in the endzone on 4th and 10 with 35 seconds left and Iowa leading by 5. What made the moment so incredible was that it looked like he had caught it EASILY and the entire stadium erupted into cheers. However, he never had control of the ball and you know who had the best vantage point of that?

The visitors' section.

So every single person in the stadium is going crazy, because all the Hoosier fans think we've just beaten the #16 team in the country and all the Iowa fans with the best view know otherwise. Iowa players were celebrating, the Indiana sideline was celebrating, it was the most unique moment I've experienced in a college football game. I'm not kidding, I was jumping up and down screaming for maybe five or six minutes before realizing that the pass was ruled incomplete.

Give me some numbers.

THE FIVE FACTORS (Weighted)
Efficiency (25%) Explosion (35%) Field Position (15%) Drive-Finishing (15%) Turnovers (10%)
INDIANA 50.1 % (12th) 0.80 (89th) 18th (one more week!) 10.9% (20th)
IOWA 42.4% (73rd) 0.73 (114th) 111th (one more week!) 14.3% (45th)

*Note: I've switched from the victory percentage to Bill Connelly's assigned weights to each factor to help illustrate how each factor, by one (intelligent) man's measure of how they contribute to a result.

So this is ... unexpected. The Hoosiers are a tick more explosive than the Hawkeyes (though neither is wowing anyone in that category) while being far more efficient, and also have gotten better field position and taken care of the ball to a greater extent than Iowa through the first half of the season. Iowa's offensive struggles are well-documented and you can run back their tape against Purdue to see it for yourself but you can't do that absent a permit and there's a 30-day waiting period, sir.

As you've probably guessed, Iowa gets by on their defense. Overall, Iowa is 37th in the country in S&P+, contrast that with Indiana's 72nd ranked unit (which puts us one spot ahead of Georgia Southern and don't be alarmed that eye twitch you just experienced is totally normal). It's an interesting statistical matchup, at Iowa excels at preventing what IU does poorly offensively, and struggles to stop what IU does well.

The Hawkeyes are 46th in defensive success rate while IU rates an ELITE(?) 12th offensively. They're 7th in the country at defensive IsoPPP, meaning they prevent explosive plays better than almost everyone, while IU is a dreadful 89th in explosiveness. Pairing that with the Hawkeyes' inability to generate explosive plays on offense and you can see why the Hawkeye brand of football is must-see television for plain toast enthusiasts the world over. For those hoping to see Indiana bust out some big plays this weekend, you're probably in store for disappointment.

I think that last clause would be a swell motto for the B1G to adopt.

Bottom-line: IU hasn't been able to hit the home-run ball with any consistency all season, and Iowa isn't the kind of team that's going to let that happen, anyway. It comes down to what it always comes down to: can Nate Sudfeld, Tevin Coleman, and D'Angelo Roberts keep the offense on schedule?

The defense, for all its criticism, is a sufficiently-decent 30th in the country in defensive IsoPPP, but still a woeful 78th in defensive success rate. Which means, for both teams, the game is going to be won on first and second down. I think the defense that puts the other guys in 3rd and long the most will emerge victorious. Iowa hasn't shown a lot of efficiency in the first half of the season, the Hoosiers cannot let them break that trend and hope to win. Get them in third and long and force them to put the ball in the air for big gains.

And, in turn, don't let them pick up those big gains. That's a big part of it too. #analysis.

We now turn to noted good college football analyst Adam Jacobi:

Thanks, Adam.

Iowa's offensive struggles in the advanced box scores become easier to understand looking at the standard boxes. Neither of the two quarterbacks that Kirk Ferentz is currently rotating have distinguished themselves. And while the QB situation in Iowa has been much maligned, I have something to show you:

QB A: 1161 yards, 63.4 CMP%, 6.63 YPA, 6 / 3 TD / INT

QB B: 1066 yards, 61.4 CMP%, 6.75 YPA, 5 / 2 TD / INT

This is pretty interesting, yeah? Well now it's about to get horrifying:

QB A is the two-QB rotation of Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard combined into one stat line, while QB B is none other than NATE SUDFELD.

I'm a big fan of Suds. I think he's got a live arm and a pretty great feel for the position. But his growing pains now that the two best training wheels of all time (Latimer / Hughes) are off have been rough. Getting to toss the pigskin around pretty much at will against North Texas might help his confidence and remind him that he's at this best when he's upright and going through his progressions. Locking onto a single read and waiting for him to break open works a lot when the single read is Cody Latimer, but with a receiving corps that has yet to have any clear-cut go-to man, Suds has to look at all his options.

It also helps IU immensely that they can hand off to a Heisman caliber running back, a man that was once described as "unlit dynamite" any time he's on the field, which is the best descriptor I've ever heard. Further, it helps even more that if Tevin Coleman didn't exist, I'd be perfectly content with D'Angelo Roberts as our starter. He's an above-average RB in this league in his own right, and having him to give Coleman a breather is a luxury that I don't think a lot of us fully appreciate. The completeness of the running game is why Nate Sudfeld's rather humdrum stat line isn't handicapping the team's ability to score like the QB situation in Iowa is. Iowa is averaging 3.6 YPC as a team. Their top RB, Mark Weisman and his 78 totes this season, averaging only 3.3 (with six touchdowns, though).

TL;DR Version:

Hoosiers gotta run the dang bawwwwwwl cuz Iowa can't that's how you win foo'ball games. Hawkeyes? More like ... garbage.

Wrap this up.

Yeah, so: there's a couple of things working against the Hoosiers here: we're on the road and Iowa is a Big Ten football team. Neither thing has been very kind to Indiana, historically. For all the talk of what Indiana is able to do and what they should be able to do, we always seem to struggle to go out and actually do it. Lots of teams who struggle to move the ball have found their way against IU in the past, and if the defense was ever going to show they can keep this team in games against the less-prolific offensive rosters of the B1G, now would be the time to show it.

Also, it seems like Iowa always gets some ridiculous back-breaking defensive touchdown when we play them. So Suds and company need to take care of the ball, which is something this team has done very well throughout the season. But one bad read or throw could ruin everything.

sudsbath2

Go Hoosiers.