Indiana football is coming off its first loss of the season, getting trampled by Cincinnati 45-24. Hoping to put their loss behind them, the Hoosiers are looking to get back in the win column this weekend. Only mighty Nebraska stands in their way.
Well, Nebraska is not the mighty program they were 30 years ago. Instead, the Cornhuskers have recently found themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten. Sound familiar?
This season has been the same, as Nebraska is off to a 1-3 start bad enough to justify paying a $15 million buyout to can now-former head coach Scott Frost. All the while, Nebraska is still favored by five points over Indiana.
The Hoosiers have plenty of questions to answer themselves. How will they respond from their first loss? Will Indiana’s adjustments finally make an impact?
The answers to those questions will be crucial in how this weekend’s game plays out. Here are the key components for Indiana to get a win on Saturday:
Come to play early
Indiana’s biggest weakness through four games has been starting off slow. So far, the Hoosiers have trailed at halftime in three of their four contests, and those deficits have nearly cost them in their wins and did cost them in their loss.
If the Hoosiers fall behind again this weekend, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to claw their way back. Indiana is going to need to come out ready to compete.
Establish the run game
Indiana’s offense has been rather predictable thus far. Junior quarterback Connor Bazelak leads Division I with 202 pass attempts, and when Indiana does run the ball, usually it’s a futile attempt straight up the middle.
However, Nebraska ranks 127th of 131 teams in rush yards allowed per game, giving up 233.5 yards per game on the ground. The Hoosiers need to take advantage of the Cornhuskers’ weak run defense to create unpredictability offensively.
Prevent the deep ball
The Indiana secondary’s first-half performance was its biggest concern from its loss to Cincinnati. The Hoosiers allowed 249 passing yards on just seven big plays of 15-or-more yards alone, and 314 passing yards in the first half total.
Nebraska junior quarterback Casey Thompson is a talented player and has surpassed 300 passing yards in two of his four games this season. Indiana is going to need to prevent these big plays from breaking out, or else Nebraska will take the top off the Hoosiers’ secondary.
Capitalize in the red zone
When reaching the red zone this season, Indiana has converted 13 of its 18 attempts, with eight of those being touchdowns. At a rate of 72.2%, the Hoosiers rank 113 of 131 teams in red zone offense.
Considering Indiana’s offensive inconsistencies this season, it needs all the touchdowns it can get. Last week, the Hoosiers had two drives inside Cincinnati’s 10-yard line resulting in just three points, something they can’t afford to replicate.
A road win at Nebraska could put Indiana back on track on its quest for a bowl game. If the Hoosiers come up short, they have their work cut out for them down the road.