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Indiana at Rutgers Game Preview: Can the Hoosiers finally triumph over the Scarlet Knights?

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Needing only two more victories to achieve a second straight bowl game, Indiana heads out to Piscataway to avenge last season's most embarrassing loss.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (4-4, #46 S&P+) at Rutger Scarlet Knights (2-6, #113 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 11/5, 12:00 PM, Piscataway, New Jersey

Channel? BTN

Vegas? INDIANA -14

S&P+ Projection? INDIANA, 34.9 - 17.0 (85%)

____________________________________

HEY RUTGER!

Last year's most infamous game preview started innocently enough. I posted some stats, made some jokes about a hapless Rutgers squad, #RUTGERTWITTER invaded the comments and emailed me threats; we all had a great time. Indiana ran up a big lead on Homecoming only to then go extremely on-brand and blow it at the buzzer. The Hoosiers went on to play in a bowl game while the Scarlet Knights stayed home, fired a coach, hired a new one who deemed Chris Laviano to be the best quarterback on the team and have been beaten resolutely by any team with a pulse they've taken the field against (and Illinois)!

The Hoosiers need two victories to achieve bowl eligibility, and with games remaining against the #113 and #115 teams in the S&P+, they cannot throw away their season by losing to a Big Ten bottom-dweller for the second season in a row. A loss to Rutgers would not only be worse than last season from an embarrassment standpoint, but it would also, in all likelihood, completely wreck the season.

Also, as a service to the glut of new readers who are stopping by this week, let me throw up a disclaimer:

BE ADVISED: The following are statistics, a numerical representation of a given team's achievements on the football field. These are not to be confused with predictions, actualized results, or laws. The author did not create these numbers, the football teams did. The author and community understand that the game is not played on a calculator, but these numbers help give readers an idea of what they can expect when two teams face off in a game. The author and community are aware that numbers cannot measure your team's heart or grit.

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 (#42 Offense) 1.33 (39th) 43.6% (47th) 29.5 (70th) 3.77 (123rd) 0 (59th)
RUTGER (#71 Defense) 1.34 (107th) 43.4% (87th) 35.4 (127th) 5.32 (113th) -6 (115th)

Explosiveness 
(86%)
Efficiency 
(83%)
Field Position 
(75%)
Finishing Drives 
(72%)
Turnover Margin 
(73%)
INDIANA (#38 Defense)
1.24 (61st)
38.6% (36th)
27.5 (28th)
4.82 (79th)
0 (59th)
RUTGER (#125 Offense)
1.09 (125th)
39.0% (104th)
27.0 (115th)
3.70 (124th)
-6 (115th)

THE OPPONENT

Simply put, Indiana hasn't seen an opponent this bad since they opened the year down in Miami against Florida International (119th). But in the season's final month they get two in Rutgers and Purdue (115th) sandwiched around games against Penn State (15th) and Michigan (1st). Rutgers is going through some stuff right now and it's a steep uphill climb for Chris Ash and his staff, who appear to still be getting a feel for exactly what they have and what they need.

They may have figured something out in the last game, however, benching Chris Laviano (48.3% completion rate, 4.2 YPA, 5 touchdowns, four turnovers) for Giovanni Rescigno (57.1% completion rate, 5.0 YPA, 5 total touchdowns, four turnovers) as they posted their finest offensive percentile performance of the season against Minnesota (69%, nice) after topping out at just 35% as a season high and posting no better than 24% during the conference season. The staff has had a bye week to really figure out what made the offense click against the Gophers and given that there's no one more important than the quarterback in a given offense, there's at least a decent argument that a lot of the tape and numbers that exist for Rutgers aren't as useful as they would be, given that they mostly reflect the Laviano Era.

For a team that is 127th in passing success rate and 120th in passing explosiveness, it's easy to see why a quarterback change could do a lot for the struggling Scarlet Knights. Laviano couldn't make anything happen down the field and wasn't good enough with short routes to make up for it. Rutgers is getting successful yardage less than two-thirds of the time they try and get it through the air. Rescigno is far from a revelation but he's almost a full yard better in YPA and also has the added threat of his legs. His 7.4 yards per carry and 6.5 highlight yards per opportunity (now abbreviating as HY/O) lead the active roster (senior wideout Janarion Grant is tops in both categories, but was injured for the season against Iowa). This is only across nineteen carries, but it's not nothing.

Running the ball is a relative strength for the Scarlet Knights across the board, ranking 31st overall thanks mostly to their 44th ranked success rate and certainly not their 96th explosiveness ranking. Robert Martin leads the backfield with 5.3 yards per carry, 515 yards but only one touchdown and is at risk of missing the game as he deals with an injury that kept him out against Minnesota. His 4.9 HY/O lead the running backs. His backup, Justin Goodwin does a good job of taking what he's given (4.5 yards per carry) but not much else (2.8 HY/O) with no touchdowns on the year. In fact, Rutgers only has five rushing touchdowns on the season (three of them scored by the aforementioned injured Janarion Grant), Indiana scored six rushing touchdowns last week.

Jawuan Harris and Andre Patton are the only receivers getting targeted on more than 8% of pass plays. Harris is a 5'9" freshman (251 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Patton is a 6'3" senior (271 yards, 4 touchdowns) however their catch rates (51.2%, 43.6%) and success rates (34.1%, 38.5%) are far from inspiring. Given the caliber of quarterback play they've dealt with this season, those numbers aren't particularly surprising for any receiver. A target is not necessarily going to be catchable and quarterbacks don't rack up a 48.3% completion percentage by throwing a lot of catchable balls.

Defensively, Rutgers is a tick above average against the run and a tick below average against the pass. They're susceptible to surrendering big plays in both areas which kills them overall, particularly against the pass given that their success rate (40th) is actually pretty good! They're average at getting after the passer, lead by senior Julian Pinnix-Odrick who has 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories. Sophomore Blessaun Austin has a Rashard Fant-ian line, with one interception and ten pass break-ups (Fant currently has one pick and 14 break-ups). The team's overall havoc rate comes in at 102nd in the country, which just won't cut it when you're 105th in the success rate against the run. Opponents are aware of that, as well, they're running the ball 69.1% of the time on standard downs and 41.2% of the time on passing downs, good for 9th and 12th in the country, respectively.

THE HOOSIERS

Indiana's defense had their second bad day at the office all season against Maryland, racking up a percentile performance of just 38%, their lowest of the year. For perspective, Indiana failed to clear the 38th percentile, defensively, EIGHT TIMES last season and only cracked the 50th twice! They've done that six times this year! I feel like the Hoosiers' defensive renaissance has been talked about a ton and Tom Allen has been given plenty of credit and yet it all still doesn't feel like enough.

Piling up 414 yards on 57 carries against Maryland did wonders for Indiana's run numbers but we'll have to wait and see if they've truly figured something out or if they were benefiting from a Terrapins' team that hadn't done well against the run all year. The good news is that Rutgers isn't much better and this newly deployed Zander / Natee read-option extravaganza might live to see another week. Granted, it's all on tape now, so Kevin Wilson may have to add some wrinkles (read: completed passes) in order to keep it efficient. Regardless, expect Zander Diamont to continue to get his opportunities to run the ball. The eye test shows he is Indiana's best runner outside the tackles and his 6.8 HY/O leads the team. His ability to turn the corner and get up the field is also giving him an opportunity rate of 50.0%, which also leads the team. Essentially, he's breaking into the second level on half of his attempts and picking up nearly seven more yards once he's there on average, that's approaching Tevin Coleman territory.

Understandably lost in all the hullabaloo of the Shake-and-Bacon package is that Devine Redding, who has no role in the read-option playbook, piled up 130 yards on 17 carries the old-fashioned way and is starting to look a lot like the guy that closed last season with massive performances against Maryland, Purdue, and Duke.

Richard Lagow had his best overall game to date, not making a bunch of sensational plays but avoiding mistakes and making the throws when Indiana needed him to, converting multiple big third downs to keep drives alive. It seems him and Zander are embracing their roles in the offense as the Hoosiers' offensive identity finally seems to crystallize. A little too late for some expectations, but right on time to snag a second straight bowl berth.

THREE THINGS

  • Get Mike Majette the ball. Indiana did a good job getting the ball to its playmakers against Maryland but I really think they could do more to get Majette involved. He's averaging over 10 yards per target (with a catch rate of 87.5%) in the passing game and his 6.1 HY/O is second on the team. He's one of the most explosive players in the offense and he's getting less than 6 touches per game. Maybe his efficiency would degrade with more usage, but Indiana can afford to find out.
  • Strong hands. Indiana is 1st in ratio of pass break-ups to incomplete passes while Rutgers is 5th. Both secondaries are adept and aggressive at getting their hands on the ball and forcing incompletions. Indiana receivers need to be ready to have defenders hands waving in front of them and ripping at the ball as it comes down. The Hoosiers prevented a couple long gains for Maryland by ripping the ball out after the receiver go their hands on it, they can't let themselves be victimized the same way.
  • Not-special teams. Rutgers and Indiana are 95th and 83rd, respectively, in special teams S&P+. Indiana mostly struggles with making field goals and covering kick returns. Rutgers has a decent field goal kicker but struggles mightily on punts, kickoffs, and coverage units for both. Their could be a lot of "hidden yardage" up for grabs in this one, and a special teams score could play a big role in the result.

PREDICTION

You'd think two straight losses to Rutgers would teach me to stop picking Indiana in this game, but the Hoosiers played their best ball last season when they knew they had to (which, coincidentally, began after they lost to Rugers). Dropping this game means they have to beat a team that's in the top-15 of the S&P+, something Indiana has only done once under Kevin Wilson (Western Kentucky, by the way, told y'all that win was huge) in order to get six wins. I think the Hoosiers defense reestablishes themselves and the offense makes enough plays to keep Rutgers at arm's-length. HOOSIERS 29, Scarlet Knights 17.