Indiana football is a lot like Penn State basketball: Overshadowed by the other traditional powerhouse, and saddled with years of futility, there are times when it seems set to turn the corner into respectability, only to struggle to break out of the bottom of the Big Ten. But there's optimism here in State College, thanks to Pat Chambers, and Kevin Wilson's brought a similar attitude change to Indiana. With a good young quarterback and some impressive gets in the recruiting game the future's looking pretty bright for Hoosier football. As for this year's 2-2 squad, Adam Johnson, of The Crimson Quarry, was gracious enough to lend his time and answer some of our most pressing questions. Be sure to read The Crimson Quarry through Saturday's game to learn even more about the upstart Hoosiers, and why they're only 3.5-point underdogs.
Black Shoe Diaries: It seemed like there was more optimism heading into this season than in any I can remember. How much did the loss to Navy take the wind out of Hoosier fans sails?
The Crimson Quarry: It wasn't so much the loss to Navy but the way we went about it. Going into the year we were thinking gotta have 1 of Missouri or Navy. Now that we've missed on both of those, both in the most disheartening manner we're looking at you guys and Michigan State to make up for lost ground.
BSD: At 2-2 heading into Big Ten play, and with a fairly daunting conference slate, what's the best case scenario for IU this year? Is this a must-win game for Indiana to be in bowl contention?
TCQ: This isn't a must have but it's a need to have. We can survive going to 2-3 but then Michigan State becomes a must have. More than likely we're looking at a 5 win season. The over/under to start the year was 5.5 so we're right on pace for that. Penn State is just the first of one of two gotta haves since we failed the first test against stiff competition.
BSD: After starting the season with a 3-man competition at QB, Nate Sudfeld's taken the reins and has performed pretty well. Can you give us a scouting report on what he does well, and what weaknesses Penn State will look to exploit?
TCQ: Nate has been a hell of a quarterback up until the most recent game against Missouri. He's a crisp passer with a heck of an arm. I've used this example several times already this year but it shows a lot of what he can do. Against Bowling Green he was flushed from the pocket and on the run, threw across his body to drop a 48 yard pass right into the bread basket of a streaking receiver. If given time he's almost impossible to beat. Where Penn State can exploit Sudfeld is by rushing him. Missouri did just that and when he wasn't scrambling to get away from actual rushers he was avoiding ghosts with happy feet. Like most quarterbacks he makes some pretty poor decisions when pressured. Unfortunately due to the very young and injured O-line that means it happens quite a bit. I would expect Penn State to jump one of his routes in a rushed decision at least once on Saturday.
BSD: Last year, Indiana had a flair for the dramatic, struggling early in games then racing back to almost complete huge comebacks. But in the two losses this season, the Hoosiers also started slow. What's the cause of that?
TCQ: Against Navy it was starting Tre Roberson at QB and not really getting any positive yardage out of the first two drives. Tack that on to the defense generating zero stops and a 17-0 hole opened up before IU started their third drive of the game. Against Missouri it was Indiana shooting themselves in the foot. On their first drive they had back to back 10+ yard plays to put them at midfield. Then a 10 yard penalty put them at 2nd and 20 and they were forced to punt in the end. Really it seems to be a focus thing. The defense isn't going to get a ton of stops so the offense has got to come out focused and ready to play. In both Navy and Missouri they didn't do that. Empty possessions on the first 2-3 drives will mean game over very quickly.
BSD: Obviously, the IU offense has been getting the attention thusfar, but what defensive players are going to need to have big games for the Hoosiers to pull off the upset?
TCQ: This may sound asinine to anyone who is even vaguely aware of the history of Indiana football, but the secondary has been quite good this year for as much as they've been worked. Tim Bennett is currently top 10 in the nation in passes defended per game at corner and Michael Hunter Jr. on the other side isn't far behind. Both get thrown at constantly and they've both been quite good at limiting the damage. Of course the sample size (which for four games is huge) makes their counting stats look uglier than the product actually is. Toss in a head nod to Greg Heban at safety and there are three very strong defenders in the secondary that can make a big play at any given point.
BSD: Give me your prediction for how this shakes up?
TCQ: Man, I just really don't know. If the offense shows up early then we could have ourselves a heck of a ball game. It really hinges on Sudfeld and company coming out early and moving the chains. If that happens then there is a lot less pressure on the defense. They were able to get 6 stops in the first 9 drives against Missouri and that's a win for this defense. If they repeat that performance I think we're looking at a 42-38 Penn State type game. But the pessimist in me thinks Indiana's offense gets started slowly again and we see Penn State win by more than 6 points in the state of Indiana for the first time. Indiana 24 - Penn State 38.
Thanks again, Adam, and remember to read The Crimson Quarry this week and all season long for an inside look at Indiana football.