The Indiana Hoosiers came out and looked absolutely baffled by Ohio State on Saturday. Head Coach Tom Allen summed up the game pretty well, saying, "After watching the film and taking a look at everything it's just very, very disappointing in the way that we played.." and "...a lot of respect for Ohio State and a very good football team, but really it was about us and our lack of execution and just doing things we got to do to win football games."
Now, not many people picked IU to win, but I'm not sure many people were expecting them to fall apart after just one quarter. In years past, the Hoosiers have played Ohio State close through most of the game. In 2015, they had first and goal with a chance to tie in the last minute of the forth. In 2017, they took a 21-20 lead into half-time. And just last year they were within a score in the second half. The common theme in those games was that Ohio State was too good, and Indiana couldn't finish. Last week Ohio State once again showed they were too good, but this time IU never found their footing and got their wheels blown off. Now, the good news for Hoosier fans is they have a very favorable game this upcoming weekend. They host their last non-conference game against UCONN, which should get them back in the win column as they have a tough Big Ten schedule ahead of them. Lets look at what we should expect from the visiting Huskies, and what we're expecting from the Hoosiers.
The Opponent: Connecticut Huskies (1-1, 0-0)
UCONN had a...troubling 2018 season. Going through 12 games and only walking off the field victorious one time is not something any coach or player has in mind. But with all those losses came lessons to take forward. They responded to the critics with a win in their season opener, matching last years win total, and then they took Illinois for a ride in their 31-23 loss in Week 2. UCONN got out to a 13-0 lead, but 24 unanswered points gave Illinois all the momentum. Still, the Huskies had a chance to tie the Illini in the forth. They pushed to ball to almost midfield when an interception halted the comeback hopes and continued their misery. With that loss, they showed they can compete with FBS opponents. Coming off of a bye week they'll be well rested and will have had plenty of time to watch film on IU. They're coming into Memorial Stadium with a chip on their shoulder with nothing to lose, and history shows when teams have nothing to lose, big things can happen.
Their offense starts with Junior back Kevin Mensah. Through 2 games he's carried the ball 50 times for 171 yards. For context, Stevie Scott has 118 yards on 37 carries, through 3 games. Mensah is generating a lot of touches, and he's making the most of them, averaging a respectable 3.4 yards per carry. UCONN getting Mensah touches early and often will be key against a lackluster IU rush defense. The Hoosiers allow 152.7 yards a game on the ground. The Huskies ability to exploit that could give them an edge on offense, and could allow Mensah to have a big game.
Backing up the run is true freshman quarterback Jack Zergiotis. After sitting the first game against Wagner, Zergiotis took over the offense against Illinois due to an injury to senior QB Mike Beaudry. He had flashes of greatness in his first collegiate start, completing 21 passes for 275 yards. His downfall was he completed two passes to the other team, the latter one sealing UCONN's fate. In order to have success Saturday, Zergiotis will need to keep calm under pressure. He can't let the size of the crowd and of the Hoosier defense affect his performance. If he can keep a cool head and play his game, he should have some success in a tough environment.
Where this game could be won for UCONN is the defense. Indiana has their problems on defense, but take pride in their offense. Key #1 for UCONN is continue to stifle Stevie Scott. Through 3 games Scott is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, but his season high is 61 yards against an inferior Eastern Illinois team. Their ability to keep Scott contained, along with Cole Best, Ronnie Walker and Sampson James, will give them success. On the passing end, taking Nick Westbrook out of the game will be huge. Limiting Westbrook's touches will be an edge, as he is the fastest and best playmaker on the IU receiving core. Forcing passes to Donovan Hale and Whop Philyor could prove effective. Hale won't be able to burn the defense downfield, and Philyor doesn't have the height advantage, giving UCONN a chance on pass plays.
How Indiana (2-1, 0-1) Can Bounce Back
After the 51-10 romping by Ohio State, Indiana is looking to flip the script on UCONN and close their non-conference slate with a big win. In order to do that, it's gonna start with the response by the defense. After giving up 51 points at home, the most points given up under Tom Allen, it would be easy for the defense to fold. But as senior Coy Cronk said, "Don't let Ohio State beat us twice," meaning don't let that loss linger and affect the next game. They need to get that out of their heads and move on to the game in front of them. UCONN is a run first team. As said earlier, Kevin Mensah is the key weapon for the Huskies offense. This gives IU the opportunity to do to UCONN what teams have done to Stevie Scott: Stack the b0x. Stacking the box and shutting down the run will force UCONN to beat them through the air. Thats what IU wants. Forcing a true freshman quarterback to beat you on the road will be a very successful strategy. If the Hoosiers can limit Mensah and force the Huskies the throw, the defense will have success.
Now, if the defense does their job, its up to the offense to put up points. It took a trick play just for the Hoosiers to find the end zone Saturday. Its gonna take some strong quarterback play to anchor the offense. Theres no word on who's starting yet, as Michael Penix is still weektoweek, Regardless of who starts, they will need to be smart. Peyton Ramsey had a decent day against Ohio State, but cost his team points when he threw a pick 6 inside the 10. There are many weapons on offense between Nick Westbrook, Donovan Hale, Peyton Hendershot and Stevie Scott, giving IU plenty of choices. Of course, whoever plays QB can't get it done by themselves through the air, which means Scott will need to get going. The O-Line needs to create holes for Scott to run through. Scott is yet to have a breakout game, and this is a perfect chance for one. Scott getting loose will open passing lanes for Westbrook and Hale. But with as good as the wide receivers are, the key to success Saturday might be a sophomore tight end.
Peyton Hendershot is the make or break on offense. He leads the team with 191 receiving yards, and has proven to be the most reliable weapon for Penix and Ramsey. He helps the run game with big blocks on the line, and he is huge in the pass game. Westbrook is so good he draws extra attention. Unfortunately for defenses, if you pay extra attention to Westbrook, you leave Hendershot wide open, and that always results in a big play. If Hendershot gets hot, UCONN is going to have a long day.
UCONN has shown promise through 2 games, but IU is a superior football team with something to prove after their last loss. The Hoosiers have not lost a non-conference game in 3 years, and I don't see the streak ending here. They are too talented and too deep. They have an edge everywhere on the field. The defense is better, the receivers are better, and they have the experience at quarterback. The only place UCONN has been better is the run game, but its gonna take more than one guy to beat IU at home. The spread favors IU by 28, and I expect the Hoosiers to cover. Give me IU 48-17.