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Nebraska at Indiana Game Preview: The Hoosiers host tenth-ranked Huskers for Homecoming

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#10 Nebraska and a national television broadcast are in Bloomington. Can the Hoosiers prevail for their first-ever Homecoming victory, probably?

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (3-2, #45 S&P+) at #10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-0, #24 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 10/15, 3:30 PM, Bloomington, Indiana

Channel? ABC / ESPN2

Vegas? INDIANA +4

S&P+ Projection? NEBRASKA, 30.7 - 27.8 (57%)

____________________________________

Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. That was five dang years ago! And thanks to the always-hilarious and assuredly-mindless rotation of the conference schedule, the Hoosiers and Huskers haven't gotten around to playing one another in football as conference rivals just yet. That all changes on Saturday when a tenth-ranked, but untested, Nebraska comes to town to take on an unranked, but improving, Indiana.

It's also Homecoming in Bloomington! QUICK FUN FACT: The Hoosiers have never won a Homecoming game at any point in their entire existence.

GIMME DEM NUMBERS.

FIVE FACTORS

(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)


Explosiveness
(86%)
Efficiency
(83%)
Field Position
(75%)
Finishing Drives
(72%)
Turnover Margin
(73%)
INDIANA (#54 Offense) 1.44 (12th) 42.4% (62nd) 30.4 (58th) 3.69 (121st) 0 (56th)
NEBRASKA (#36 Defense) 1.27 (77th) 41.0% (63rd) 27.9 (40th) 3.38 (15th) +4 (26th)

Explosiveness
(86%)
Efficiency
(83%)
Field Position
(75%)
Finishing Drives
(72%)
Turnover Margin
(73%)
INDIANA (#35 Defense)
1.26 (74th)
36.9% (28th)
28.2 (48th)
4.63 (63rd)
0 (58th)
NEBRASKA (#26 Offense)
1.18 (105th)
49.9% (9th)
32.8 (25th)
5.00 (55th)
+4 (26h)

THE OPPONENT

The first glance at the Five Factors shows teams that clock in rather similarly on defense, with the Huskers just one spot behind the Hoosiers overall. That said, both teams get to that number in different ways. While Indiana is driven primarily by their ability to keep teams off-schedule, Nebraska's defensive effort is fueled by tightening up once their opponent's get in scoring position and an excellent turnover margin. They're also a team that has some egregious splits throughout their statistical profile. Their passing defense is ranked 53rd, but that's comprised of a unit that ranks 85th in efficiency and 11th in explosiveness, while also being pretty pedestrian at sacking the quarterback. So while Nebraska does a good job of preventing big plays through the air, they too often allow themselves to be nickel-and-dimed by opposing passing games.

On the ground, it's practically the opposite. They're pretty good, efficiency-wise (47th), but are a woeful 122nd when it comes to explosiveness. An Indiana team that has struggled to run the ball in recent weeks could be just what the doctor ordered for the 71st ranked rushing defense. Likewise, a team ranked 15th when it comes to preventing points inside their 40-yard line is likely looking forward to facing an offense that ranks close to dead last when it comes to scoring in the same situation.

Offensively, the Huskers have been effective albeit quite a bit banged up coming out of the bye week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong (1151 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 58.9%) leads a passing offense that is ranked 16th overall but just got out of a walking boot after suffering a minor ankle injury. Jordan Westerkamp, his leading receiver in targets, catches, and touchdowns is set to miss the game with his own injury along with Cethan Carter, a senior tight end that is fourth on the team in targets and yards is also likely to miss Saturday's tilt. Worse yet, the Huskers leader in rushing attempts, Devine Ozigbo, also has failed to practice this week and will likely force a potential DEVINE SHOWDOWN between himself and Devine Redding to be postponed, probably forever.

That means the lion's share of the carries are going to go to Terrell Newby, who has managed nine more yards on seventeen less carries than Ozigbo this season, thanks largely to their large difference in highlight yards (5.3 per opportunity for Newby, 1.9 for Ozigbo.) Newby is a much a greater threat in the open field, and possibly overall, than Ozigbo, who is much more in the mold of the old-school bruiser at 6'0", 230.

Indiana can't lose contain on Armstrong, either. He's averaging 6.4 highlight yards per opportunity himself, and leads the team in rushing touchdowns. He's a legitimate two-way threat that should have Indiana's full attention, especially after they surrendered 137 yards to J.T. Barrett last weekend.

THE HOOSIERS

It should be noted that, while Barrett did carve the Hoosiers up on the ground, he had a miserable day through the air, failing to crack 100 passing yards and turning it over twice. Indiana is now 31st against the run and 46th against the pass as the defense continues to improve as the season goes along. They are still prone to getting victimized by the big play through the air, and 6'2" Alonzo Moore and his absurd 25.8 yards per catch should have the secondary's full attention. Moore does not have to be open in order to catch the ball, and the defensive backs' improved play on balls in the air will likely be tested early and often.

Offensively, Lagow and company have the passing offense up to 3rd in the country. Only Colorado and Penn State are better at moving the ball through the air so far this year. The offense is not without its faults though, as their ability to score once deep in opponent's territory continues to deteriorate as the season goes along. A rushing offense that began the season with so much promise is now ranked 70th overall, unable to keep the offense on schedule nor generate many big plays since the right side of the offensive line went down with injuries. The team only has two rushing touchdowns, one on a read-option by Lagow against FIU and the other on a Tyler Natee direct snap against Wake Forest.

The running game has to get back on track if Indiana is to have a chance on Saturday. When teams can defend your running game without committing extra bodies, trying to score as the field shortens gets that much harder, as defenses can afford to drop more guys back and defend the pass without worrying about a running back breaking loose. When the windows get tight and things bog down, coaches get tempted to try some cute things in order to get the yards they need, because they're not going to come conventionally.

Bottom line: Dan Feeney's return, should it ever happen, will likely have a massive effect on an offense that has been starting to show its potential, albeit in inconsistent spurts, the past few weeks.

THREE THINGS

  • Get Mike Majette in space. Either in the screen game or running the ball, Majette's 5.5 highlight yards per opportunity and 12.8 yards per target reveal him to be one of the Hoosiers' most explosive players who is likely to benefit from more touches. I'm not advocating to the run the kid off tackle a bunch of times, but instead engineer ways to get him the ball with space to pick up speed. Good things will happen.

  • Special Teams. The headliners for the special teams unit: punter and kicker, have been mostly alright this year, but the overall units have been close to disastrous. They're ranked 70th overall and struggle with protections and tackling, putting the offense and defense in tough spots all too frequently. Improved technique when it comes to these "hidden yardage" plays is a must if Indiana wants to knock-off a top ten opponent.
  • Be ready on third down. Nebraska has the 7th best defense on third down in the country. Indiana's offense is ranked 10th on first down, 5th on second down, and (probably unsurprisingly) 81st on third down. The Hoosiers are going to have to solve their drive-killing issues against one of the best units in the country. If they get in a position where they're being forced to string several third down conversions together in order to score- it could get ugly.

PREDICTION

A lot of people like Indiana in this game and I think they've got a real chance. It'd be nice to know if Dan Feeney is going to suit up or not, and I would imagine we have to be getting close to his return. Before the season, I predicted Indiana to lose this game mostly because it was on Homecoming but I can't help but feel pretty good about their chances in this one. I think it's one-score either way, and it's an Indiana blog so let's say Indiana prevails in a classic: Hoosiers 31, Huskers 30.