Who, When, Where: For the first time in the Big Ten (and first time at all since 1978), Indiana and Nebraska meet on the football field. Kickoff in Bloomington is at 3:30pm on Saturday, with Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham broadcasting for ABC/ESPN2, assisted by Dr. Jerry Punch on the sidelines. It is Homecoming for Indiana, which seems like the perfect time to welcome a top 10 team into Memorial Stadium.
Big Men on Campus: Tegray Scales continues to be the force behind Indiana’s defensive success, racking up another game leading the team with double digit tackles. AShon Riggins and Patrick Dougherty picked up two more turnovers for the defense, recording an interception and a fumble respectively against Ohio State.
Nebraska ‘Nowledge from Jesse: Two weeks ago, Nebraska was rolling and the Indiana game was looking less and less ominous. The reality of the situation now is that Oregon was murdered in back-to-back weeks, Illinois took Nebraska to the brink and then lost to Purdue, and Indiana was weirdly close to Ohio State. Now, we’re looking at a one score spread on the road and I don’t really know what to tell you. I’m just happy the BYE week happened when it did because we were about as beat up as a team can be.
Speaking of which, Jordan Westerkamp, Cethan Carter, and Devine Ozigbo are probably all out on Saturday, and if we were not ridiculously deep at both RB and WR, I’d be really nervous. Still, it bears mentioning.
Anyhow, let’s talk about what to expect from Nebraska. While we are probably not the 9/10th best team in the nation, we have managed to win every game we’ve played and it starts with good Tommy Armstrong and his ability to protect the football and beat you with his run game. Against Oregon - and to an extent, Illinois - we saw Armstrong generally make good decisions and attack on a whole complement of sweeps, draws, options, and even the occasional deep ball. Indiana’s defense has been respectable, but I do expect Nebraska to get points. Keep an eye on the WR corp of Stanley Morgan, Jr., Demornay Pierson El, and Brandon Reilly. They can beat you with speed and are catching everything. Terrell Newby, Mikale Wilbon, and Tre Bryant will have the RB by committee on lock.
Where things get really interesting is on defense. This has been the epitome of a bend, don’t break type of effort. Chris Jones is probably a real deal lockdown CB, and I’ve enjoyed a decent enough effort on the line - led by mustachioed Ross Dzuris - but there are yards to be had by Indiana. You’re going to have to hit passes to crack some bigger holes, but I don’t expect this to be a low scoring affair.
All that said, I think Nebraska can win this game. The score? Your guess is as good as mine. Win and move on. That’s this teams’ mantra and now they get to put that in practice.
How Will This Game Go During Basketball Season: Given that this will be Indiana’s Big Ten home opener, three days before New Year’s Eve, the usually raucous atmosphere at Assembly Hall might be dimmed a bit by the lack of students in attendance. Hopefully, this year’s Hoosiers won’t need too much energy from the crowd to get fired up to play. All that aside, the true danger for Indiana will be to not get caught looking ahead to the New Year’s Eve showdown with Louisville. Nebraska is a tough team, and if the Hoosiers aren’t fully focused, they could very easily lose. I don’t expect them to do so, but it is a possibility.
Prediction: This is going to be one of those weird games where it’s either a really high score for inexplicable reasons, or a really low scoring game that comes down to who has the ball last (potentially in overtime). For being number 10 in the nation, it’s not like Nebraska has faced the toughest road to get here. Their only road game so far was a 24-13 win against Northwestern, and scare by Illinois aside, their most competitive game is a 35-32 game against Oregon where the Ducks failed on 4(!) two point conversions. If Tommy Armstrong is hobbled or worse, and the Indiana defense continues to play at least on the level it has been, it could be a very long day for Nebraska. It feels weird to say that the offense is the side of the ball Indiana really needs to have a strong start, but here we are (#2016). I do think it’s going to be a close affair if things play out anywhere close to what I’ve predicted, so give me Indiana pulling the 34-31 upset.
Next Week: Indiana heads up to Evanston for a matchup with Northwestern at high noon (Eastern time).