Four things the football teams from Indiana and Iowa can do to put themselves in a position for success in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington:
Indiana (4-2, 1-1)
1. Ride the horse
Indiana’s Stevie Scott has emerged as one of the top freshmen running backs in the nation. The Syracuse native arrived on campus ready made to compete in the Big Ten, carrying 236 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. Scott has been the workhorse in the Hoosiers’ backfield, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and second in the nation among freshmen with 528 yards on 107 carries through six games. Only 12 backs in the country have rushed more than the 107 times Scott has carried the ball.
2. Be opportunistic
An offseason focus on creating more turnovers is paying dividends for a Hoosiers’ defense which is relatively young, starting just four seniors. Indiana leads the Big Ten with 13 takeaways through its first six games, intercepting seven passes and recovering six fumbles. The total ranks 13th nationally and the work has been a collaborative endeavor for the Hoosiers. Eight different players have forced fumbles, seven have recorded an interception and six Hoosiers have recovered fumbles.
3. Mix things up
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey orchestrates an offensive attack which averages 411.2 yards and 27.8 points per game. The sophomore who fought off a graduate transfer and a freshman to retain the starting position this season is the first dual-threat QB Iowa has seen this season. But, there has been a distinct difference between what has transpired in the Hoosiers’ wins and losses. In its four wins, Indiana has averaged 217 rushing yards. In its two losses, the Hoosiers have averaged 56.5 yards on the ground. The better balance Indiana has been able to achieve, the better the Hoosiers’ chances for success.
4. Many happy returns
Indiana’s J-Shun Harris II is making a healthy contribution to Indiana’s return game. Returning from his third ACL injury, the fifth-year senior leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally with an average of 13.8 yards on 10 punt returns this season. Harris has returned three punts for touchdowns during his career, including an 87-yard return against Ball State earlier this season. Harris, who also leads a balanced Indiana receiving corps which has seen six players record at least 10 catches, recorded his first 100-yard receiving day last week at Ohio State, where he caught eight passes for 104 yards.
Iowa (4-1, 1-1)
1. Establish the run
The Hawkeyes were limited to a season-low 2.7 yards per carry last week against a Minnesota defense which loaded the box with eight players to deny Iowa a chance to move the ball on the ground. That dropped the Hawkeyes’ season average to 3.8 yards per carry, a number that typically won’t cut it against Big Ten competition. With starter Ivory Kelly-Martin questionable for Saturday’s game after leaving the Minnesota game with an injury, Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent will be counted on to find holes to make Iowa’s offensive attack work.
2. Stay stingy
With Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa ranking 1-2 in the Big Ten in sacks, the Hawkeyes need to continue consistent and pressure-filled work by a front four which has not only has found its way to the quarterback 18 times this season but hasn’t given an inch to opposing running backs without putting up a fight. Iowa allows 2.7 yards per carry on the ground, ranking sixth nationally among FBS teams, and the Hawkeyes have surrendered just two rushing touchdowns this season. Iowa, along with Southern Mississippi, lead the nation in that category.
3. Share the ball
Iowa topped 400 yards of offense for the third straight game by spreading the ball around, something the Hawkeyes will need to do again against an Indiana defense which has given up its share of big plays this season. Eight Hawkeyes carried the ball last week at Minnesota and Nate Stanley connected with six receivers to lead Iowa to a win in its first road test of the season. That type of balance helped lead the Hawkeyes to a season-high 48-point performance against the Golden Gophers and is a look that can be a winning formula for a balanced Iowa attack this season.
4. Avoid a letdown
Iowa takes a modest one-game win streak to Bloomington, but after reaching a split decision in two games against rival opponents the last two times out the Hawkeyes need to be on guard against a letdown. Iowa will be playing at one of the Big Ten’s quietest venues and is facing an opponent it hasn’t seen in recent years. The Hawkeyes will be playing Indiana for the first time since 2015 – a game when it took a head-first plunge into the end zone by C.J. Beathard just before halftime to put Iowa ahead to stay in a 35-27 game at Memorial Stadium. The Hawkeyes have won six of the last seven games between the teams, but Iowa is just 4-4 in its most recent visits to the sedate set-up at Indiana.