The phrase “must win” is one of the most overused terms in sports. There is no way to know for sure until you look back on a season whether a game was truly must win. We’ll just say this about Friday night’s contest at Minnesota — it sure feels like a must win.
Whoever wins this game is going get a boost of confidence, and renewed hope for the postseason. The loser is going to continue to watch their season spiral down the drain as one of their more winnable games becomes another missed opportunity.
If the Hoosiers win on Friday night, they would need just one more victory with three games remaining to reach bowl eligibility and improve on last year’s five win season. To accomplish that, they’ll have to win on the road, something they have managed to do twice this season.
These are the kind of games that IU needs to start winning with regularity — and with just four games remaining, the schedule seems to suggest that they need to start doing that right now.
INDIANA (4-4, 1-4) at MINNESOTA (3-4, 0-4)
- Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
- Location: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805), Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Television: FS1
- Series: The Golden Gophers hold a 38-26-3 edge in the all-time series, including a 42-39 victory in Bloomington the last time the two teams met on Nov. 2, 2013.
- Odds: Indiana is a 2 point favorite
- Weather at kickoff: 49 degrees, cloudy with light rain, winds at 6 mph, 65% chance of rain
P.J. Fleck is 8-11 (2-11 in Big Ten play) in his second season at Minnesota. Fleck served as the Western Michigan head coach from 2013-16 and has a career record of 38-33 (.535).
TALE OF THE TAPE
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WHEN INDIANA HAS THE FOOTBALL
This is going to be one of the weaker defenses that Indiana has faced this year, and definitely since Rutgers. The weather is calling for rain, so it will be interesting to see if that impacts the game at all. It sounds like light rain with minimal wind, so the impact is not likely to be significant.
It is Peyton Ramsey’s show now. With Michael Penix out for the season, Ramsey has four games to show that he is the quarterback of the future at IU, and to silence his critics.
Minnesota appears to be a good team to get started against. The Gophers have been lit up by opposing quarterbacks for three weeks in row — although IU shouldn’t be too overconfident here as those games were against some familiar foes including Iowa and Ohio State.
With the rain falling, IU is likely to emphasize the run a bit more than normal. Freshman Stevie Scott and his offensive line were surprisingly effective against Penn State, and Minnesota is a middle of the road run defense nationally. A strong running attack on Friday night would go a long way in securing a fifth IU victory.
The guy to watch out for is Minnesota’s No. 45, Carter Coughlin. The junior linebacker has been a sack machine, tallying eight on the season to go with two forced fumbles. Indiana would be wise to pay particular attention to him in their pass blocking schemes.
The bottom line here is that Minnesota’s defense has been bad, no very bad. They have given up 43.3 points and 503.8 yards per game in Big Ten play. Indiana will move the ball like they always do — but will they score touchdowns? For us, that is the key to the game.
WHEN MINNESOTA HAS THE FOOTBALL
The big question will be who is going play quarterback for Minnesota — and be careful what you wish for here.
Gopher quarterback Zack Annexstad has started every game, while backup Tanner Morgan gave the team a spark in the second half at Nebraska when Annexstad was injured.
Annexstad completes just a hair over 50 percent of his throws and has nine touchdowns against seven interceptions. Morgan flashed some ability at Nebraska, although truth be told, the Huskers were playing conservative while protecting a big lead. Both quarterbacks are freshmen.
It will be youth against youth when Minnesota has the ball. On offense, the Gophers start seven true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
Minnesota lost their star running back Rodney Smith for the season in week two. He was threatening Darrell Thompson’s career records. Mohamed Ibrahim has filled in well, and ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns at Ohio State. Look for Minnesota to try to emphasize the run.
The Gopher offense has put up points this year, but the national rankings above tell the true story. Their 31 points against Iowa were aided by multiple turnovers. The 28 points at Nebraska last week were largely in garbage time. If Indiana’s defense plays with the same energy that it brought against Penn State — the Hoosiers should have the advantage here.
Indiana could also get a boost on its struggling defensive line tonight if veteran leader Jacob Robinson can return. Tom Allen indicated earlier this week that Robinson is making progress and would be a game day decision. Safety Devon Matthews is also likely to return.
We’ve only been wrong once this season — and it was when we went against our better judgment. There is a risk for doing the same in this one, as historically IU doesn’t win these kind of games. They haven’t won at Minnesota since 1993.
We think IU is the better team right now, but at Minnesota under the lights? Well….
Here goes nothing…
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