1. Three seasons in one for Indiana
Indiana's bowling for the first time in eight years and only the second time in 22, and that's awesome. Every football fanbase deserves an opportunity to celebrate every now and then, and after the drastic fits and starts of the last two seasons, Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers finally advanced to the six-win mark. But it wasn't easy.
First came the close wins. With a more run-heavy identity on offense and a defense still trying to find its way, Indiana narrowly avoided disaster early. The Hoosiers survived SIU by one point and escaped with a seven-point win over Wake Forest. In between was a three-point win over WKU that was actually impressive. Still, IU was a pretty shaky 4-0 at the end of September.
Then came the close losses. By seven points to Iowa State, by eight points to Iowa, by seven points in overtime to Michigan. Indiana proved more in losing than it did in winning early in the year. Throw in a massive blown lead in a home loss to Rutgers, and you've got a six-game losing streak to counter a four-game winning streak.
Next came the taking care of business. In need of two wins over bad teams to reach bowl eligibility, IU did what it needed to do. The Hoosiers beat Maryland by 19 and Purdue by 18 despite losing star running back Jordan Howard to injury. The reward: a football game at Yankee Stadium.
Wilson's defense still hasn't gained traction. The Hoosiers have allowed at least 22 points in every game this year and at least 34 in eight. But they've got the offense to match. Despite losing Tevin Coleman to the NFL, IU ranks 20th in Off. S&P+. Howard was on a serious roll when he got hurt -- last three games before injury: 68 carries, 490 yards, 5 TDs -- but in his absence, sophomore Devine Redding did almost as well, rushing 46 times for 274 yards against Maryland and Rutgers.
With a steady run game behind him, senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld has posted the best numbers of his career despite turnover at receiver. He's completing 61 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns to five picks. Duke's got a decent defense, albeit one that faded. IU should be able to put points up because of balance, however.
2. Two bad Novembers in a row
For two straight years, Duke has hit the home stretch of conference play as the projected favorite in the ACC. In 2014, the Blue Devils were 4-1 in conference play and 8-1 overall but lost by one to Virginia Tech and by 25 to North Carolina, both at home, and lost the division in the process. This year, they were 3-0 in the ACC and 6-1 overall, then lost four straight. A gut-wrenching last-second loss to Miami was followed by blowout losses to UNC (66-31) and Pitt (31-13) and a stumble at Virginia (42-34).
Over the first six games of 2015, Duke allowed only 56 points; the defense was allowing a rebuilt offense to figure things out slowly. (Case in point: a 9-7 win over BC.) But the D cratered, allowing more than four times more points (233) in the last six games. The offense, a pass-first unit that can't pass very well, couldn't keep up.
Stud safety Jeremy Cash (18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, three forced fumbles) is out, which means an active secondary will be without its anchor and the late-season defensive slide might continue.
That will put pressure on an inconsistent offense to keep up in a shootout. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, recently announced as ECU's head coach, will attempt to get quarterback Thomas Sirk going against IU's dreadful pass defense. In his last nine games, Sirk managed a passer rating above 140 just twice, though his completion rate was certainly solid late (66 percent against UVA and Wake Forest). He has a diverse, if only reasonably effective, receiving corps, with seven guys catching at least 17 passes and none catching more than 48.
But if anything can get the Blue Devils going, it might be the Indiana defense.
3. Key Stat: Run rates and comfort zones
Spread: Indiana -2.5
S&P+ Projection: Indiana 32.5, Duke 29.2
Team Sites: The Crimson Quarry, Duke Basketball Report
|Category (Rk)||Indiana offense||Duke offense|
|Std. Downs Run Rate||63.4% (42)||56.0% (87)|
|Pass. Downs Run Rate||38.3% (32)||27.2% (99)|
|Category (Rk)||Indiana defense||Duke defense|
|Std. Downs Run Rate||51.3% (122)||66.7% (14)|
|Pass. Downs Run Rate||27.7% (116)||37.0% (35)|
|Front 7 Havoc Rate||11.5% (26)||7.5% (109)|
|DB Havoc Rate||4.8% (111)||8.2% (15)|
Indiana has a run-first offense this year, and opponents tend to attack Duke on the ground.
Duke has a pass-first offense, and opponents tend to attack Indiana through the air.
This screams shootout potential, and one of the things that could tip this game in one direction or the other is which defense can more effectively move the opposing offense out of its comfort zone. That means forcing Nate Sudfeld to beat a still-solid Duke secondary. That means forcing the ground combination of Sirk and Shaq Powell to shoulder as many blows as possible. In theory, neither defense might succeed, but if one does, that team will likely take the game.