Indiana football’s season has reached a critical juncture.
The Hoosiers face what’s essentially a must-win game Saturday at Rutgers. The game kicks off at noon and will air on Big Ten Network.
IU (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) is starting to run out of realistic opportunities for wins. After facing Rutgers (3-3, 0-3), the Hoosiers head into a bye week. They return from the bye week with two of their toughest games of the season, at home against Penn State and away at Ohio State. IU closes at Michigan State and then hosting Purdue.
So if Indiana doesn’t beat Rutgers, it would have to upset either Penn State or Ohio State to reach a bowl game. But with a victory, a bowl is still a realistic outcome, if IU can win its last two games.
On Thursday, IU head coach Tom Allen dubbed defensive lineman Beau Robbins questionable after he missed the Maryland game with an undisclosed injury. He also said that wide receiver D.J. Matthews could see an increased workload this week, as he’s made progress in recovering from a hamstring injury that cost him two games and limited him last week.
Allen said earlier in the week that the team is hoping to get cornerback Jaylin Williams back for this game. Linebacker Cam Jones remains out, though he’s traveling with the team anyway to provide leadership on the sideline.
Rutgers’ offense will present some interesting challenges for IU’s defense.
The Scarlet Knights use three different quarterbacks — senior Noah Vedral, and sophomores Evan Simon and Gavin Wimsatt. Some have been injured at various times, so they haven’t always had their full stable available. But Rutgers will have all three players available Saturday.
“It’s interesting how they do it,” Allen said. “They all can run. So that’s a consistent variable for them. They all have different strengths and things that they do really well. Definitely challenging. We’re going to be very aware of which quarterback’s in the game, and if they have multiple quarterbacks in the game.”
Rutgers also changed offensive coordinators, throwing another curveball at Indiana. The Scarlet Knights fired Sean Gleeson and promoted tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile ahead of their bye week, after their 14-13 loss to Nebraska. This is Rutgers’ first game since the coaching change.
That will make it even more difficult for Indiana to know what to expect from the Rutgers offense.
“You can’t just change your whole system. We get that. But they do have a bye week, so there will be some new things for sure you’re going to see,” Allen said. “The first couple series are going to be big. We’re not really 100 percent sure what we’re going to see. So we’re going to have to be able to be really, really good coaches and adapt and adjust, and put a game plan together that has the ability to do that adaptation for our guys from the sideline when the game gets going.”
It’s not the first time IU has faced a situation like that — Nebraska played just one game under interim head coach Mickey Joseph before its bye week, allowing the Cornhuskers time to implement some new things before their game against IU.
Rutgers’ defense is its biggest strength. The Scarlet Knights rank eighth in the country and third in the Big Ten with just 91.67 rushing yards allowed per game. Their pass defense is 27th in the country and sixth in the conference with 194.2 yards per game allowed.
Indiana, in some ways, will have to stay out of its own way. The Hoosiers have been prone to costly mistakes, whether it’s turnovers or drive-killing plays that see scoring chances go wayside. IU just can’t afford to keep doing that.
Like most Hoosier opponents, the Scarlet Knights are keying in on the fast pace IU’s offense plays at.
“They run more plays than any other team in the country. So we are going to have to get back, get aligned, get the call, and get our cleats in the ground because otherwise they catch you off balance,” Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said. “Often times, the film isn’t ready to go they go so fast. Literally, they want to snap it with 32 seconds on the (play) clock. So to be able to run more plays than any team in America, that says something.”
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