Indiana football opens the second half of the season with one of its most important games so far.
The Hoosiers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) host Maryland (4-2, 1-2) Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN2.
It’s a critical game for Indiana, starting the second half of the season in need of a win. If the Hoosiers drop this game, they would — in all likelihood — have to beat Rutgers, Michigan State, and Purdue to reach a bowl game. The margin for error would be little to none.
IU head coach Tom Allen said his team has a lot to clean up from its recent performances, but is equally focusing on continuing what they’ve done well to this point.
“We’re not where we want to be right now, the way we finished the last two games,” Allen said. “At the same time you have to continue to build off the positives from the first half of the season and you take those into the second half because obviously the second half of the season is going to define how everything is determined. (There’s) a lot to build off of. I’m one that chooses to focus on the things that we’ve done well, build the confidence in that, then correct the mistakes.”
Indiana will hope to get some key contributors back for this matchup. While linebacker Cam Jones remains out, wide receiver D.J. Matthews, cornerback Jaylin Williams, and tight end AJ Barner are all game-time decisions. Wide receiver Javon Swinton is set to return after missing the Michigan game.
Maryland’s offense is potent. The Terms rank 40th in the country and fifth in the big ten with 34 points per game. The passing offense, in particular, is a real weapon, with 304.7 pass yards per game — 19th in the country and second in the Big Ten.
Redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa poses a challenge for Indiana’s defense, as one of the top quarterbacks IU has faced all year.
“I think that he’s continued to get better and better. He’s a special quarterback. He played well last year in our game. He’s played well this year. That to me is the key,” Allen said. “(Quarterback play) has allowed them, I think, to be able to elevate their game and win some of those close games.”
IU offensive coordinator Walt Bell held the same position at Maryland, along with quarterbacks coach, in 2016 and 2017. That was while Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley was at Alabama, during the DJ Durkin era in College Park. But there are certainly people in the building at Maryland who are familiar with Bell’s style.
“They play a fast, up-paced tempo offense, they try to get a bunch of plays,” Locksley said. “We’ve got to do a really good job on the defensive side of the ball of getting ourselves lined up, really good job of communicating and making sure that we’ve got everybody on the same page as they try to play fast.”
Maryland’s run defense is solid —the Terps are 36th in the country, though just 10th in the Big Ten, with 118.5 rushing yards allowed per game. The pass defense is another story, as Maryland ranks in the bottom 20 nationally and 12th in the Big Ten with 270.3 pass yards allowed per game.
It seems like an opportunity for quarterback Connor Bazelak and Indiana’s passing game to get something rolling, after intermittent struggles the last several weeks. And while Allen knows that, he’s continuing to emphasize improvement in the running game —which, outside of a few spurts, hasn’t had much traction all season.
Some of that comes down to better offensive line play, which Allen is eyeing this week after letting offensive line coach Darren Hiller go and promoting Rod Carey. But whatever it takes, Allen just knows the running game is essential for his offense.
“We have to run the football more effectively than we have been, and we have to be able to do a great job of executing in the throw game,” Allen said. “A big part of our offense is throwing the football, but there is a toughness that we have to have that I want to make sure we always play with, in the run game, in the throw game, and in everything we do.”
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