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Utah Utes vs. Indiana Foster Farms Bowl Preview: Hoosiers look for first bowl win in quarter-century.

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It's the Utes and Hoosiers on a Wednesday night in Santa Clara! CLUCK CLUCK.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (6-6, #48 S&P+) vs #19 Utah Utes (8-4, #40 S&P+)

When? Wednesday, 12/28 8:30 PM, Santa Clara, California

Channel? FOX

Vegas? UTAH -6.5

S&P+ Projection? UTAH, 28.5 - 26.6 (54%)

____________________________________

The Christmas season may be drawing to a close but BOWL SEASON is just heating up. For the second year in a row, and for only the third time since the early-nineties, the Indiana Hoosiers are participating and looking for their first victory since the 1991 Copper Bowl against Baylor.

When we last left the Hoosiers, they had defeated their hapless rival to get their sixth victory and secured a bid to the Foster Farms Bowl against Utah. Then things went sideways, as they tend to do for Indiana football when things seem to start looking up. Head coach Kevin Wilson resigned amid allegations of player mistreatment and administrative discontent, replaced by his defensive coordinator who was awarded the job without an interim tag and will be the head coach for the Hoosiers until his performance, either good or bad, dictates otherwise.

There's an argument that a stats-based preview of a team who just made one of the most dynamic changes a team can make during the season should come with quite a bit of skepticism. We can probably assume that Tom Allen isn't going to make any huge shake-ups to the blueprint the Hoosiers have followed to this point, but we can't be sure. He has retained the entire staff (to this point), meaning offensive coordinator Kevin Johns remains in place and, with that, the offensive identity.

Elsewhere, Utah is coming off an 8-4 campaign that saw wins over BYU and USC (right before USC hit their stride) but a perplexing loss at home to Oregon that derailed a dark horse bid to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They finished the regular season 19th in the CFP Rankings, but S&P+ likes them far, far less. Let's dig in.

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 (#66 Offense) 1.33 (35th) 40.9% (84th) 30.6 (43rd) 3.54 (125th) -7 (108th)
UTAH (#53 Defense) 1.27 (76th) 39.6% (39th) 24.5 (2nd) 4.50 (69th) 7 (20th)

Explosiveness 
(86%)
Efficiency 
(83%)
Field Position 
(75%)
Finishing Drives 
(72%)
Turnover Margin 
(73%)
INDIANA (#30 Defense)
1.26 (69th)
36.6% (20th)
30.0 (84th)
4.35 (53rd)
-7 (108th)
UTAH (#38 Offense)
1.25 (74th) 42.7% (63rd) 31.9 (28th) 4.10 (98th) 7 (20th)

THE OPPONENT

As you can see, S&P+ sees these two teams rather evenly, just eight spots apart in the overall rankings, with each unit somewhat close to its opponent's counter. So it's not difficult to see why the stats expect this to be a close game.

Offensively, the Utes center on quarterback Troy Williams who sometimes does good things (2579 passing yards, 372 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns, 5.4% sack rate) and other times does bad things (11 turnovers, 53.4% completion rate, 3.3 HY/O). Utah's passing offense is ranked 77th, with good numbers for explosiveness (44th) but struggling to stay on schedule with their success rate (99th). They're like a poor man's Penn State, and you'll recall how the Nittany Lions low-efficiency, high-octane passing attack shredded Indiana's secondary.

Four pass-catchers are garnering double-digit target rates, lead by 6-5 senior Tim Patrick and his 43 catches, 684 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow seniors Cory Butler-Byrd and Evan Moneai have 20+ catches and over 300 yards, but less than half of their catches generate enough yardage to keep the Utes on schedule. Sophomore Raelon Singleton has 454 yards and four touchdowns, and his 6-3 frame is more than enough to give Indiana's secondary fits.

Their rushing attack is the more potent outfit of the two, ranking 45th with great efficiency numbers (33rd) and average explosiveness (63rd). Joe Williams leads the backfield in carries (184), yards (1185), touchdowns (9), YPC (6.4), and HY/O (7.0) and is one of the best all-around backs in football. Three other guys have received at least 78 touches out of the backfield (including the quarterback). Armand Shyne and Zack Moss have identical YPC (4.7), chipping in over 700 yards and six scores combined.

Utah enjoys top-40 defenses against both the run and the pass, with solid marks in both efficiency and explosiveness for both. They're fueled by their Havoc Rate, clocking in at 6th overall. (DL: 4th, LB: 112th, DB: 9th). Hunter Dimick leads the team with an incredible 35.5 sacks/TFL along with six pass breakups as a defensive end. Utah's entire defensive line is loaded with guys that have been living in opponent's backfields all season and Indiana's offensive line will need to play its best game to date in order to give Richard Lagow time to find receivers and their runners lanes to run through.

THE HOOSIERS

Indiana finished the regular season with the nation's 30th best defense, finishing one of the finest and most unexpected one-year turnarounds for a unit that arguably lost more talent than it gained after last season's dismal 105th ranking. The man responsible was given the reigns to the whole shebang. Had Indiana not taken the leap of faith with their possible budding coaching star, it's safe to assume another program would have.

The defense will have to be ready to stop the run first and foremost, as the Utes are top-50 when it comes to running the ball on standard and passing downs while their pace (29th) can and will prevent substitutions and keep guys on the field for long stretches if Indiana can't get stops. Fortunately, the Hoosiers are perfectly capable of getting opponents off track. They're 16th in Havoc Rate (DL: 46th, LB: 19th, DB: 19th) and 40.3% of opponent incomplete passes result from passes defensed, good for 8th in the country.

Zander Diamont made headlines after beating Purdue (again) saying that he'd be retiring from football after the season citing concerns for head injuries and his future. He will play in the bowl game and will likely be leaned on to spark a rushing offense that collapsed to 110th thanks to a complete inability to stay on schedule (114th in success rate) but still a decent threat to break out a home run (49th in explosiveness). Diamont's 8.4 HY/O is the best on the team and it's not particularly close, and offers a nice complement to Devine Redding's steadiness.

Hopefully Richard Lagow doesn't throw a billion picks in this game, either. But to expect anything other than the full gamut of what a quarterback can be, from the amazing to the braindead, is to expect disappointment.

THREE THINGS

  • Can the defense turn the expected into the actual? Utah is among the best in the nation in turnover luck, which S&P+ puts at +5.35 points per game. Their actual turnover margin is +7 but their expected is -5.84, meaning that the Utes pounced on an inordinate amount of loose footballs and benefited from their fair share of dropped picks. If Indiana is to win this game, they'll need to turn the Utes over a few times (likely just to offset their own giveaways).
  • Who can finish off their drives? Neither team is adept at finishing their drives with points, with Indiana being one of the worst in the country and Utah being Pretty Bad. One of these teams is going to have to find the end zone or else we're in store for a very, very boring game. Both defenses are merely average at preventing points inside the 40-yard line, so mistakes in this area are far more likely to be self-inflicted for both sides.
  • Please win the bowl game. You can't dream of a a better way for the Tom Allen Era to begin than delivering Indiana's first postseason victory in a quarter-century. Heading out west and dispatching of a ranked Pac-12 team will definitely send the message to Hoosier Nation that the program is in good hands. Like it or not, Tom Allen might never have more eyes on him than he will on Wednesday night, and that means reactionary TAEKS will be at an all-time high.
  • PREDICTION

    I really don't know. Vegas likes the Utes by a touchdown, S&P+ likes them by less than a field goal, and history likes Indiana to spontaneously combust into sand in the middle of the third quarter while nursing a nine-point lead. I think Tom Allen puts his stamp on the program in game one, if only because I'm rooting like hell for him to do so. HOOSIERS 26, Utes 23.