Saturday, September 21, 2013

Missouri heads to Indiana for first road game

If you love college football shootouts, find a comfortable chair and settle in for Saturday’s Missouri-Indiana football game. The Hoosiers have a high-scoring offense and a shaky defense, meaning the final score of the game could more closely resemble a final from the basketball games for which Indiana is known.

Saturday’s game (7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network) should provide an interesting test for Missouri (2-0), as the first road game usually does. The Hoosiers have not been good in recent years, but they improved from one win in 2011 to four wins last year. Now, with 19 starters back from last year, Indiana could be poised for a breakout season.

The Hoosiers have a talented young quarterback in sophomore Nate Sudfeld and one of the best receiver groups in the Big Ten. Of the conference’s top eight returning players by receiving yards, three are Hoosiers, Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn. Indiana’s offense is ranked sixth nationally in scoring after three games, at 50.0 points per game.

The Hoosiers have played all home games this year, beating Indiana State, losing to Navy, and beating Bowling Green. In trying to slow down Indiana, Missouri will miss linebacker Andrew Wilson, who will miss the first half after he was penalized for “targeting” a player with a high hit in the second half of the Toledo game. The new rule outlaws targeting defenseless opponents with hits above the shoulders, and players are ejected for it. They cannot play in the first half of the following game if the violation takes place in the second half.

The first half could be a white knuckle affair as Missouri attempts to keep the potent Hoosier offense at bay without its leading tackler from last year. Even if Missouri lets Indiana move the ball, the Tigers can still get the job done by bearing down in the red zone. Indiana struggled to punch the ball in from inside the five-yard line against Bowling Green, and holding teams to field goals instead of touchdowns may be the key to this game.

When the Tigers have the ball, they should be able to run up some points of their own. Avoiding turnovers and, as mentioned, finishing off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be crucial.
Indiana has been dismal of late, going a no-adjective-necessary 14-66 in Big Ten play over the last 10 years, including 5-35 over the last five years. Since 1993, the Hoosiers have just one bowl appearance. But ESPN College Gameday analyst Lee Corso used to coach there, so that’s something.

But that history means Indiana fans are hungry, and many think this is their year to get back to a bowl. That, plus the Saturday night setting, plus an SEC opponent coming to town should make for a great atmosphere. Missouri carries that SEC patch, which doubles as a target for other teams looking to make a statement.

I expect a competitive game with plenty of momentum shifts, but in the end I think Missouri’s edge defensively should get the Tigers the win.

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