Rutgers (5-2; 2-2) will travel to face Indiana (2-4; 0-3) on Saturday at noon ET airing on the Big Ten Network. The Scarlet Knights are one win away from achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014. The Hoosiers are coming off a blow out loss to No. 2 Michigan following their bye week. RU is currently a 5.5 point road favorite in this key conference matchup.
In an effort to find out more about Indiana football ahead of Saturday’s game against Rutgers, I connected with Alec Lasley, the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, the go to source for in-depth coverage of Indiana athletics. Following the firing of offensive coordinator Walt Bell, IU appointed Rod Carey as offensive coordinator. With another quarterback situation uncertain heading into this week for Rutgers, there is plenty to discuss about Saturday’s game.
Let’s kick things off here.
AB: How much is Indiana head coach Tom Allen on the hot seat and do fans still believe in him?
AL: He’s 100% on the hot season but the question is, does it truly matter? His buyout is north of $20 million if he’s let go this year. It drops to less than $8 million a year from now. Indiana is 2-19 in the last 21 Big Ten games and have lost by an average of 23.9 points in those 19 losses. In the last 30 overall games, Indiana is 8-22. It has been a far fall from the 2019 and 2020 seasons. At this point, fans are pretty fed up with him, especially with all of his ‘coach speak’. It’s great when things are going well, but not great when things are going in the opposite direction. Indiana has some major questions to answer this offseason but I don’t know if the fanbase and donors are invested enough into football to pay that buyout.
AB: Was there any noticeable difference last week with Rod Carey as the new offensive coordinator? Did it make sense to fire Walt Bell when they did or was he more the fall guy based on the team’s overall struggles?
AL: Indiana ranks dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and have been unable to put any sort of cohesive and consistent unit on the field for much of the last two years. I always hate seeing someone lose their job, but yes it made sense to move on from Walt Bell. Rod Carey’s first game was against Michigan last week and the offense showed some fire power early on. In the first quarter, it was a 141-17 yard advantage for Indiana and a 7-2 advantage for IU in first downs. Indiana condensed the playbook to what both QBs did well, which were quick passes and short routes. The quicker the QBs get the ball out with this offseason the better. There are numerous playmakers at the wide receiver and running back positions, but they need to be able to get the ball out in space and use their athleticism. Unfortunately, neither QB threw a touchdown and it was former QB, now wide receiver Donaven McCulley, who had a 44-yarder to Jaylin Lucas on a trick play. Regardless, I think Carey is on the right path but until some points are scored, it’s a mute point.
AB: Who do you think will start at quarterback between Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby and how are they different in terms of their respective strengths?
AL: That’s a good question because neither have really played well enough to be the starter. But, at some point you need to stick with one guy and try to get some sort of rhythm with the offense. Jackson flashed his potential earlier this season but has really struggled the last few games. Jackson has the ability to be a dual-threat guy but he seems more and more uncomfortable using his legs. Sorsby on the other hand, has been the more effective runner of the two so it brings a bit of a different dimension to the offense. Jackson brings high-risk — with his seven turnovers this year — but also high reward. He’s shown the ability to make big plays this year. Sorsby is consistent but lacks the big-play ability that Indiana has been searching for. We are eight weeks in and the fact that Tom Allen isn’t confident with Jackson being the guy at this point would point me in the direction of Brendan Sorsby being the starter come this weekend. But, if there has been one consistent theme with the coaching staff during the QB battle, it’s that the messaging continues to be inconsistent.
AB: How important is linebacker Aaron Casey to the Indiana defense and do you think this unit can get back to playing the way they started the season?
AL: Aaron Casey is one of the best linebackers, if not the best, in the Big Ten. He is critical to everything Indiana does on the defensive side of the ball. His ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, from sideline to sideline and in the open field is why the IU defense has been solid amongst its front seven. The biggest issue with the defense is their inability to defend against explosive plays. Whether it was Louisville, Akron — at times — Maryland or Michigan, there were numerous chunk yardage plays that would eventually lead to touchdowns. Indiana’s secondary has been incredibly inconsistent over the last two weeks and that puts a lot of pressure on the front seven to produce even more pressure in the backfield. The one thing Indiana has going for them is Rutgers’ emphasis to be a run-first team with only one player in the top-25 of the Big Ten in receiving yards.
AB: What’s your biggest concern entering this matchup against Rutgers?
AL: Yikes, there are a lot unfortunately. But, the biggest has to be the offense. Indiana ranks 14th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging just 18.5 points per game. In three Big Ten games this season, Indiana has scored three touchdowns. Two of which came against Maryland when the Hoosiers were down 37-3 in the fourth quarter. Neither quarterback has played well this season but the lack of confidence the staff has in either one is more concerning. There is very little rhythm and a lack of confidence from both players at this point. With Rutgers’ ability to get off to quick starts, it’s a concerning sign for Indiana that struggles in games in which they trail early, with their inability to be a run-first football team. If it’s a quick 14-0 game, things could get ugly in a hurry if Indiana is forced to be a pass-first team.
AB: What do you think could be an x-factor in this game?
AL: The x-factor will be QB play for both teams. Can Indiana move the ball consistently enough to keep the Rutgers offense off the field? But more importantly, can Indiana score touchdowns? Indiana has struggled with mobile quarterbacks on the defense side and Gavin Wimsatt has the ability to get outside of the pocket and make plays. A mobile quarterback ended the game against Louisville on two critical third down plays. It took Indiana to 4 OTs against Akron and has shown up on other occasions periodically throughout the season. Wimsatt is the type of runner who can hurt Indiana with his elusiveness and athleticism. If Indiana can win the QB battle, there is a great chance this one comes down to the wire. But, that’s a big if.
Thanks to Alec for his great insight on Indiana Football. You can follow him on X (Twitter) here and for all of his coverage on Indiana Athletics, visit Hoosier Illustrated. To read my answers to Alec’s questions on Rutgers football, click here.
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