A week ago, Indiana played the #1 team in the country. In the process of the game, they lost their first string quarterback and running back. In the second half alone, they gave up touchdown runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards. They also came five yards away from taking Ohio State to overtime.
Where some fanbases might find despair in coming so close to a program-defining win, Indiana partisans seem to have found a real, legitimate, moral victory in hanging with the Buckeyes, despite the injuries; in keeping in check an offense so wholly loaded with weapons. Indiana is for real, last Saturday taught them, and Penn State, a reeling opponent dealing with injuries woes of its own, offers a chance for the Hoosiers to get back on track.
Unfortunately for IU, they'll be headed into a buzzsaw: it's Homecoming, so not only might fans actually show up for a noon start against an easily-overlooked opponent, but Grand Marshall Hingle McCringleberry will help shore up Penn State's tight end group. Oh, and thiss is Indiana's first game as our Most Hated Rivals, so the atmosphere is gonna be cray-cray. Jokes aside, win in Happy Valley, and it's a breakthrough year for Kevin Wilson. 8, 9, even 10 wins are on the table.
At least, that's the hope, for Kyle Robbins--who led the #IUFB4Gameday charge a week ago--and the good folks over at The Crimson Quarry, which is one of the best darn web logs on this network. Kyle was gracious enough to answer our questions, and we offer our gratitude.
On to the questions!
Black Shoe Diaries Do you guys want to be rivals? It'll really piss off the new kids that nobody likes.
The Crimson Quarry: I'd characterize it as 'Life Partners In Punting' rather than 'Rivals,' per se. This is a friendly, appreciatory convention to admire booted, flying footballs. But, yeah, rivals works. We're down.
BSD: Between the 4-0 start, the #IUFB4Gameday movement, and taking the #1 team to the brink, Indiana football is having a moment. How much have Hoosier fans embraced this team, and what needs to happen the rest of the year to keep the good vibes going?
TCQ: This sounds crazy -- but last Saturday and the days leading up to it were evidence to most that Indiana can be a football school. That's the most abuzz Bloomington has been for a sporting event since the 2012 defeat of #1 Kentucky in basketball. Now here's the question: can Kevin Wilson and the athletic department keep it going? I think the expectation is that they can -- and that isn't off base. Everyone knows the offense can score points, and the defense is rounding into form. This should really be a swing game for both Indiana and Penn State. With a win, that puts Indiana at 5-1 with Rutgers, Purdue, and Maryland all still to come. That makes 8, 9, or even *10* wins possible for Indiana. That sounds absurd -- but the way the Big Ten East has shaken out this year makes it not completely ridiculous. I think Indiana fans realize that this could certainly be the perfect storm for a special season. Or they can lose, and we can all start worrying about getting to six wins again. Whatever.
BSD: Nate Sudfeld has become one of the most consistent QBs in the Big Ten, but he missed the second half last week. What's the latest on his status, and do you think Zander Diamont is more equipped to step in than he was last year--when Penn State held him to 68 yards passing with 2 interceptions?
TCQ: I fully expect Sudfeld to play Saturday in Happy Valley. He was cleared to re-enter the Ohio State game, but Wilson didn't feel that he was able to move around enough to protect himself. KW's shown himself to be the anti-Tim Beckman in choosing not to rush players back from injury, possibly even bringing them along too slowly. That's the only thing that gives me true pause about Sudfeld's status. Wilson indicated Wednesday night on his radio show that the senior quarterback was still "gimpy" a bit -- so nothing's for certain. As for Diamont, he looked much better in relief against Ohio State than he did at any point last year. He's added 30 pounds in the offseason, but is still a totally different Manziellian type of player from that of Sudfeld. Outside of one or two throws, he really spun it fairly well against the Buckeyes late -- and also managed to make a fool of Tyvis Powell on that 79-yard-touchdown scamper to bring the Hoosiers back within 7 in the fourth quarter. Indiana is a much better team with a healthy Nate Sudfeld, but Diamont is hardly the pushover he was last year when it comes to throwing the ball.
BSD: Last year, Indiana entered the Penn State game with the leading rusher in the Big Ten. This year, Indiana brings the second leading rusher in the Big Ten to State College. How good is Jordan Howard, and how does his style differ from Tevin Coleman's? How much would the run game suffer if he's not ready Saturday?
TCQ: I feel even more confident about seeing Howard Saturday than the aforementioned Sudfeld. Wilson said they just haven't "overworked" him at practice this week -- which seems to indicate that he's getting enough reps to be ready. He tried to re-enter the Ohio State game as well, but was immediately pulled right back out after one carry. He's a much different runner than Coleman, a bruiser who will run over & through you, contrasted with Coleman's world-class top end speed. Devine Redding was decent in relief of Howard against Ohio State, but struggled to pick up the 6, 7, 8 yard consistent gainers that Howard has reeled off all year. Similar situation as above: If Howard can't go, Indiana is certainly worse at that position. But they're still good enough to win the ballgame if it's Diamont & Redding in the backfield.
BSD: Indiana's defense held Cardale Jones and the Buckeye passing game in check...but got gashed for huge gains by Ezekiel Elliott in the second half. Is the Hoosier defense particularly susceptible to big plays, or was that the culmination of a talented OSU offense wearing down Indiana's D?
TCQ: Hot take: Indiana's defense outplayed Ohio State's offense all day, but had a weakness exposed on three huge plays. Indiana struggles with run support from the secondary at times. They're young, struggle to make open field tackles, and sometimes get sucked too far up in the play to make a recovery. Each of those runs, if you watch, might have not had any business going 10 yards -- let alone to the endzone. It's simple mistakes, like tackling, assignments, things that happen in a young secondary. The front 7 has been great, but these mental lapses by the young guys in coverage can lead to huge plays for opponents.
BSD: Penn State opened up as 8-point favorites, which, unless Sudfeld and Howard can't go, feels fundamentally wrong. Do you expect there to be a bit of a hangover from the Ohio State game, or is Saturday still an opportunity to prove that the Hoosiers can play with the big-name programs in the Big Ten?
TCQ: Don't expect a hangover at all, honestly. This seems to be a very feet-on-the-ground bunch, a group that knows how to handle success and failure. That line does seem way high, I rapped openly about thinking that Indiana might be favored against the Lions after the Ohio State game and y'all struggled with Army.
BSD: You're calling this game PUNTWEEK, so I've got to ask: how good is Erich Toth, and how do the rest of Indiana's special teams rate?
TCQ: Toth is good, serviceable, etc. I don't know. He's a punter. He punts. He punts well. I just write humorous parodies of songs with the word PUNT worked into them -- I don't know anything about punting, like, at all.
BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?
TCQ: I've been wrong the last two weeks -- so maybe I should pick Penn State? I don't know. I think it all comes down to whether or not Sudfeld & Howard play. If Indiana's clicking offensively, I'm not sure Penn State can score enough points to stay in it. For this, I'll assume they play and say Hoosiers 34, Penn State 21.
Thanks again, Kyle, and remember to read The Crimson Quarry tomorrow and all season long to stay up to date on our longtime rivals, the Indiana Hoosiers.