Much like AC/DC, Indiana football is “Back in Black.”
The Hoosiers (1-2) are set to close out their nonconference schedule Saturday against the University of Akron (1-2). Kickoff inside Memorial Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m., but with a twist – Indiana will be donning an all-back uniform with red helmets. The game’s theme is a blackout, with fans encouraged to mirror the team and wear black.
During his playing days, NFL Hall of Fame cornerback and now-University of Colorado head coach Deion Sanders coined the phrase, “look good, feel good, play good.”
Indiana has checked the first two boxes – but what about the last?
Here are three things to watch when the Hoosiers take the field Saturday.
Last Call: Indiana still looking for growth after Week 1 challenge
Prior to kicking off the season against a top-five foe in Ohio State, Indiana head coach Tom Allen stated that having such an early test would be beneficial for accelerating his team’s growth. Indiana fell 23-3 to the Buckeyes on Sept. 2, but took solace in knowing it had clear evidence of where to improve upon moving forward.
However, Allen doesn’t believe his team has reached its stated goal. A commanding 41-7 win over Indiana State University on Sept. 8 was a step forward, but the Hoosiers’ inability to put together a full 60-minute performance in their Sept. 16 loss to the University of Louisville set Allen’s squad back in its pursuit of progress after facing the Buckeyes.
“Didn't feel like we fully maximized that,” Allen said during Monday’s press conference. “I want to see us execute better. You play who you play, and your schedule is what it is, and we have to continue to grow as a football team. To me, the jury is still out to see if that's fully going to manifest itself.”
Allen added that Saturday’s contest will be an important step in determining the verdict. Indiana’s seventh-year head coach is hoping to see early execution with confidence and pace, making the Hoosiers’ opening quarter a critical barometer for how big of a stride they’ve made in the season’s first four weeks.
Can Jackson carry over momentum from his first full game to his second?
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tayven Jackson made his second collegiate start in the Hoosiers’ 21-14 loss to Louisville. It was his first as the full-time option under center as Allen gave him the nod over Brendan Sorsby after a months-long competition.
After an inconsistent first half, Jackson settled down and starred over the final 30 minutes, finishing 24-of-34 for 299 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He was lauded by teammates for his leadership and positive energy regardless of game situation, and Allen noted Monday that Jackson has a chance to become one of the best vocal leaders he’s coached during his time in Bloomington.
“Tayven's ability to make reads in the throw game was impressive,” Allen said. “A key quality you're looking for in a quarterback is, ‘Can he make something out of nothing? When something breaks down. can he extend the play long enough to get his eyes down the field?’ He's able to do that ... The more he plays, the better he's going to get.”
Allen wants to see Jackson continue to grow chemistry and find rhythm within the offense while reducing the operational mistakes, like play clock and checks, that cost Indiana last time out. Growth is the focus this week, and if Jackson starts this Saturday’s game at the same level of play that he finished against Louisville, that goal should be achieved.
Struggling Zips offense presents opportunity for Hoosiers’ defense
Akron’s offense is currently No. 131 of 133 schools in total yards, averaging 262.7 yards per game. The Zips, members of the Mid-American Conference, have endured tough sledding on the ground, as their 42.3 rushing yards per game ranks second worst in the country.
Led by first-year coordinator Matt Guerrieri, Indiana’s defense has been stout, holding opponents to under 300 yards on average while allowing just 17 points per game. A difficult, uncharacteristic first half against Louisville saw the unit allow 21 points and 302 yards in the first half but rally to pitch a shutout in the second half.
On paper, Akron seems to be a matchup that Guerrieri and his group can dominate. The Hoosiers’ defense has an interception in each game this season, while the Zips’ quarterbacks – DJ Irons and Jeff Undercuffler – have a combined four interceptions through three contests.
Nevertheless, Allen and Guerrieri have continued to preach that it’s about Indiana as much as it is the opponent. Akron’s roster is filled with length and athleticism, Allen pointed out, and the Hoosiers are prepared for a competitive affair in Week 4.
“A team that's got a lot of guys that are good enough to make it really challenging for us,” Allen said. “They play really, really hard. Coach Moorhead does a great, great job there. They will be very good schematically on both sides of the ball. So, looking forward for the opportunity for us to continue to improve and continue to get better.”