Pinstripe Bowl Info / How to Watch
Who? Duke Blue Devils (7-5, #74 S&P+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (6-6, #62 S&P+)
When? Saturday, 12/26, 3:30 PM, Yankee Stadium, New York City
Channel? ABC / WatchESPN
Vegas? INDIANA -2
The Indiana Hoosiers are playing in a bowl game! After going 4-0 in non-conference play, the Hoosiers suffered six straight defeats, five of them to teams in the top-35 of S&P+ (three in the top ten!) to send them to the brink of elimination for bowl consideration before taking advantage of the schedule softening up and dispatching of Maryland and the hapless Purdue Boilermakers, both away from Memorial Stadium. When it was all said and done, outside of an absolute meltdown against Rutgers, the Hoosiers avoided disaster in games they should win and looked competitive against teams that typically blow them out.
Typical Indiana teams probably don't beat Western Kentucky (who finished 11th in the S&P+, by the way) or would fold up after going down 21-3 against Maryland on the road. But this Hoosiers team has started to show the kind of resilience and raw talent needed to win enough games to qualify for the postseason. Sure, there's a lot of scenarios where you talk yourself into seven, eight, or even nine wins for Indiana, and they certainly let a few wins slip away. But they've progressed enough to the point where letting the Michigans and Ohio States get away didn't prevent them from achieving Indiana's annual goal: Play 13.
Duke went 7-5 against a paper soft schedule, with an average opponent S&P+ rank of 70 (Indiana's average opponent was ranked 49, both played one FCS opponent) and had a nightmare stretch to close the year, losing four of their last five, with my other alma mater (the University of Miami) sort of breaking them after pulling off the most hilarious play in college football history, maybe:
Despite multiple blocks-in-the-back, a premature celebration by the sideline, and a dubious-at-best replay of the knee's location on one of the eight laterals, this touchdown stood and Duke was never the same. They were 6-1 going into this game, in the driver's seat to appear in the ACC Championship Game, and that ... uh ... that didn't happen. Don't feel too bad for Duke, because their go-ahead touchdown in this game with 6 seconds to go was almost as fraudulent and also they're Duke.
LET'S DO THIS.
THE OPPONENT: (#74 S&P+, #91 Offense, #45 Defense)
Duke's offense lacks explosion, ranking 100th in the country in IsoPPP (109th passing, 64th rushing), and that leaves them in the precarious position of having to execute successful plays over and over to sustain drives and score points. Unfortunately, they're not too good at that either, ranking 85th in Success Rate (76th passing, 86th rushing) which explains why they're 95th in the country when it comes to finishing drives. Of course, by now you're well aware that even the supposedly "bad offenses" tend to find their rhythm against the Hoosiers.
They're quarterbacked by Thomas Sirk, who, like Nate Sudfeld, missed some time with injuries this year, but put up 2400 yards, 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions with a 60% completion rate on the season. He also moonlighted as the team's leading rusher, carrying 133 times for 701 yards and 6 scores, good for a 5.3 YPC. Behind him is a three-man running back committee led by Shaquille Powell (122 carries, 534 yards), Shaun Wilson (75 carries, 321 yards) and Jela Duncan (56 carries, 370 yards).
The Blue Devils enjoy an array of contributors, along with four guys with at least 56 carries (Indiana has 2), Duke also has six players with a Target Rate of at least 7.4% (Indiana has 3). Indiana can't really afford to shift too much focus to any one skill player, because Duke has the versatility to let the game plan flow elsewhere. Obviously, consistent pressure and smart contain on Thomas Sirk will go a long way towards holding down Duke's offense, but that's much easier said than done.
On defense, Duke has much more to boast about, they're #1 in the country when it comes to limiting rushing explosiveness, and 43rd in success rate. For a Hoosiers team that has struggled for the majority of the season to generate explosive plays on the ground, a date with Duke is probably not the best way to turn that around. It should be noted that stud safety Jeremy Cash, the team's leader in tackles for loss (and it's not particularly close), will miss the Pinstripe Bowl due to wrist surgery. Duke ranks 71st overall in Havoc Rate, but their DBs rank 17th. Duke has leaned heavily on Cash's playmaking to fuel their defense and his absence will loom large.
Their pass defense, even with Cash, however, is not great. When I say "not great" I mean: they're worse than Indiana at defending the pass. It's true! The Blue Devils are 104th in S&P+ and while they're 39th in Success Rate, they're an abysmal 120th when it comes to preventing explosive plays. That's not a great match for an Indiana team that is 23rd in explosive plays through the air. If the weather cooperates and conditions remain somewhat ideal (current forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and a slight chance of rain) Nate Sudfeld could have a field day.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH FOR
- Indiana's Pass Offense (11th) vs. Duke's Pass Defense (104th): Touched on this above, but this is really going to be where Indiana butters their bread against Duke. A leaky secondary missing its best player gives Nate Sudfeld and company a tremendous advantage. The senior quarterback is already one of the finest passers to suit up for the Hoosiers, and he can really cement his legacy by delivering the first bowl victory to Bloomington since the 1991 Copper Bowl.
- Jordan Howard vs. his dang body: Kevin Wilson has had encouraging things to say during his various media engagements since the end of the regular season, and it sounds like Howard has a good chance to suit up. That said, we all know not to read too much into what Howard does or doesn't do leading up to the game as being indicative of whether he'll play or not. He's had quite a bit of time to recover since departing during the game against Maryland, here's hoping he's ready.
- Duke's 4th Quarter offense (49th) vs. Indiana's 4th Quarter Defense (112th): Duke's offense gets better as the game goes along, going from 94th in the first, to 65th in the second, 54th in the third and 49th in the 4th. Indiana's defense surges in the third quarter (30th) before falling apart in the 4th. There is not a lead this offense can produce that anyone should consider safe. We learned the hard way against Rutgers that three good quarters could be completely undone in the final frame.
- Duke's 3rd Down offense (23rd) vs. Indiana's 3rd Down defense (121st): In much the same way, two good downs of defense can be completely undone by a third down conversion and Duke makes that happen all too frequently to be comfortable. They're 78th and 89th on the first two downs, respectively, before morphing into an Indiana-level of efficiency and explosion on third down. Indiana's defense has been hard to trust on third down all year, and too many breakdowns could end up costing them.
- Indiana's pace (9th) vs. Duke's pace (15th): Both of these teams love to speed the game up by hurrying to the line in between places and catch defenses in states of confusion as they try to keep up. With Indiana's elite ability to score points coupled with their inability to prevent other team's from scoring and set to the pace that both these teams like to play, you may be looking at one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season.