Before leaving Indiana’s team hotel last Saturday afternoon, Tom Allen and his staffers huddled around a television. On the screen was the Michigan State-Rutgers game, a matchup between fellow Big Ten East foes. This wasn’t a formal film study, but a chance to familiarize themselves with the Scarlet Knights, the team IU would be traveling to face in a week’s time.
What Allen saw on that screen caught his attention. The team IU lined up to face last fall? That wasn’t the team Allen saw on TV.
So when he met with his group earlier this week, Allen noted his observations. And, in a way, he was relieved to be breaking down footage of a victorious Scarlet Knights contest. Because if anything was going to capture his team’s focus, it was this idea:
This doesn’t appear to be the Rutgers side that humiliated itself in Bloomington last fall.
“I was actually thankful for that in some ways, just being honest,” Allen said. “You can say things a certain way, but if you put the film in and the film does not match, these guys are pretty smart guys. They know what the film means. When you put the film in, they are a completely different team than we played a year ago. Whatever thought that you had about Rutgers previously is erased. That obviously shows us that the film never lies. They are a much-improved football team. They played really hard. They created seven takeaways, which is unbelievably impressive to me, and they are a really good team. Bottom line is, it is our first road game, and we have to play better this week than we played last week. That is the key.”
Here are three thoughts on the matchup:
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Who are these guys?
Indiana and Rutgers both enter this game in weird places. The Hoosiers just did what they haven’t done in ... forever? And Rutgers? It surprised Michigan State in East Lansing with a truly un-Rutgersian performance, landing seven takeaways to punctuate a 38-27 win. Or maybe that performance was in line with what we can expect from Greg Schiano’s program moving forward. It wasn’t pretty, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, but it was muddy enough to cause problems. And really, right now, that’s what Rutgers needs to be doing. If the Scarlet Knights are at least competent on defense under Schiano’s watch, they could be a pest sooner than later.
We really don’t know what — and who — is real right now. That goes for IU, too. It feels like the defense could be pretty good, and the issues we saw with Michael Penix and his receivers last week are all correctable. But what about the offensive line? Can that group play better against a lesser defensive front? Can it allow coordinator Nick Sheridan to lean more comfortably on his run game? We’re curious to find out what, if anything, looks different this week.
Speaking of Penix...
We noted Michael Penix’s uneven play during Saturday’s upset. Some of it sure looked like rust. At other points, the folks around him didn’t offer much help. And yet, Penix atoned for his hiccups when it mattered most, delivering the Hoosiers their first win over a top-10 opponent since 1987.
Can the IU quarterback be more consistent this week? Needless to say, that would go a long way toward getting the Hoosiers the result they need. It would also assuage any lingering concerns about Penix and his play moving forward. Given last season’s injury, the long layoff and the understandable level of rust, reasonable people can look past a shaky season-opening performance. And we’ve seen in the past that Penix has the talent to make all the throws — and make all the plays, period — that IU needs him to make. Can he do it in all four quarters this week? That’s top of mind heading into Saturday.
Traditionally, IU hasn’t shown the ability to handle prosperity. When Good Things occur, Bad Things then seem to surface in short order. It’s just kind of baked into the bones of Indiana University football.
Or, at least it used to be. Maybe.
The Hoosiers demonstrated last year that they have the temperament to handle the Good Things as they come. After clinching bowl eligibility on the road against Nebraska last October, Indiana refocused and handled Northwestern at home the following week. In the long, tortured history of Hoosier football, that kind of response hasn’t often been there. But it sure needs to be there this week.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers (1-0, #25 SP+) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-0, #83 SP+)
Where? SHI Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
When? Saturday, Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
Channel? FS1 | Joe Beninati (p-b-p) & Matt Millen (analyst) & Coley Harvey (sideline)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Buck Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -12
SP+ Projection? Indiana by 13 (32-19), 78 percent chance of Hoosier victory