When: Sat., Oct. 17 (3:30p.m. ET)
Where: Bloomington, IN; Memorial Stadium (52,929)
Line: Indiana -6.5
Rutgers and Indiana come into this game with similar records (0-2 in the conference), with both carrying a road blowout loss against Penn State and a one-touchdown loss at home to the alleged best teams in the division (MSU, OSU). Let’s count to 5 and preview this matchup in Bloomington:
1 Burning Question: How will returning personnel affect this game?
Rutgers returned star receiver Leonte Caroo last week and he nearly made all the difference as Rutgers stayed close to the Spartans. This week head coach Kyle Flood returns from his three-game suspension and it will be interesting to see how a fully loaded Rutgers team and coaching staff approaches what is becoming a tougher place to play every year under Indiana coach Kevin Wilson.
Meanwhile for Indiana, starting QB Nate Sudfeld (1277 passing yards, 7 touchdowns) and starting RB Jordan Howard (709 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns) are desperately needed back after missing half the game against OSU and the entire game against PSU with injuries. If one or both of these players is not fully ready to go, that could spell trouble, even against this Rutgers squad.
For the sake of making this game watchable in the 3:30 Eastern time window, let’s hope both teams are fully loaded and ready to entertain with an offensive shootout.
2 Key Stats
Turnover Margin (Indiana +9, Rutgers -6) — The Hoosiers lead the conference in turnover margin thanks to being remarkable clean with the ball, only turning the ball over a total of three times in six games. Meanwhile, Rutgers has not even recovered a fumble yet this season! In a game that is slated to be close, one or two extra possessions could make all the difference for the Hoosiers.
Total Defense (Indiana 489 yards per game, Rutgers 411 yards per game) — Both these teams rely on the offense to hang with tougher competition by trying to outscore opponents, rather than shut the opposing offense down. IU is particularly putrid in total defense, but both these teams are subject to serious gaffes in the passing defense. That seems to bend in Rutgers’ favor thanks to Leonte Caroo, but if Nate Sudfeld is healthy, he leads the conference in passing yards average and will benefit from the weak competition. Should be some big points scored in Bloomington this weekend.
3 Key Players
Leonte Caroo, Rutgers WR — 7 catches, 134 yards, 3 touchdowns. That’s the stat line Caroo put up in his return last week against Michigan State. Indiana’s defense is nowhere near as effective as the MSU “no fly zone” (which has admittedly been weaker than normal this season), and that means Caroo should find some serious openings for big plays. Chris Laviano will have his eyes locked on Caroo for opportunities all day, and he will likely be the biggest factor how this game will play out.
Rashard Fant, Indiana CB —The cornerback who will probably draw the assignment to contain Caroo will be Fant, who leads the conference with 11 pass breakups this season already. This is likely an impossible task, particularly to shut him down all game, but the big plays have to be stopped or limited. Don’t be surprised if Fant receives double-team support, but he will be the key to slowing the Rutgers attack.
Jordan Howard, Indiana RB — Howard ranks seventh nationally in rushing yards per game at 142 per, and that’s even with a subpar performance caused by a first half injury against OSU. He is the glue that keeps this offense together and without him, the Hoosiers suffer as shown last weekend. If he’s healthy, expect a heavy workload as IU tries to keep Rutgers off the field and limit the chances for defensive mistakes.
4 Bold Prognostications
Rutgers recovers a fumble — It hasn’t happened yet this season and the Scarlet Knights are the only team in the Big Ten without one. That’s bound to change, right? Especially if Indiana relies at all on a second-string running back and/or a third-string quarterback (backup Zander Diamont is also injured). This is the week, Rutgers!
Neither team eclipses 500 yards offense — With two defenses as bad as the statistics show above, it seems inevitable that a high powered offense would break 500 yards, if not both. However, strange things happen in the quiet little town of Bloomington, and I think the big plays are limited in this showdown. That means both offenses will fall short of the season average, and that’s just what you wouldn’t expect.
Leonte Caroo scores 3 more touchdowns — Rutgers has a bevy of senior wide receivers that can all make plays for QB Chris Laviano, but Caroo is the threat that nobody on Indiana’s defense will likely be able to cover effectively. If MSU can’t hold him from three big plays, why should we believe Kevin Wilson’s defense will do any better?
Sudfeld and Howard start the game but at least one won’t finish it — Unfortunately it is difficult to pick this game because of the uncertainty around the injury status of the most important players on the IU offense. However, after a week off, I expect both will at least try to suit up and start this game. That said, this feels like a situation where one or both will not actually be healthy enough to go four quarters. Hopefully for Indiana, they can put up enough points before that happens to ride the home field advantage to victory.
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Indiana 38-27 (56-13 overall; 30-38 ATS)
Dave: Indiana 41-34 (58-11 overall; 38-29 ATS)
Greg: Rutgers 37-28 (51-18 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Matt: Indiana 38-35 (56-13 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Phil: Indiana 31-24 (10-4 overall; 4-9 ATS) *joined in Week 5