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Ankony: Hoosiers could get running game back on track against Maryland

No. 12 Indiana will have an opportunity to bounce back Saturday when it welcomes the Maryland Terrapins to Bloomington. After a 4-0 start that brought attention on a national landscape, the Hoosiers got their first taste of defeat versus Ohio State last week.

Stevie Scott carries the ball up the middle against the Penn State defense in 2019. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Indiana faced a 35-7 deficit versus the Buckeyes, but incredible resilience and belief resulted in a narrow 42-35 Ohio State victory. 

Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET and can be seen on ESPN2. The Hoosiers escaped College Park with a 34-28 victory last season, and opened as 14-point favorites for Saturday’s matchup. Let’s get into three major storylines to follow this weekend.

Opportunity for Stevie Scott, Sampson James

Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan has built an explosive offense at Indiana this year, but the majority of the Hoosiers’ success has come through the air by way of Michael Penix Jr., Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor. It is unlikely that Sheridan will shy away from this aerial attack, but Indiana could have its best chance of the season to establish a strong run game.

Entering this matchup, Indiana ranks 13th in the Big Ten in both yards per carry and rushing yards per game. Indiana running back Stevie Scott has been a productive weapon in the red zone, punching in five touchdowns, but hasn’t found much success otherwise. 

Scott is averaging 3.4 yards per carry on 95 rushes this season, and complementary back Sampson James ranks just below at 3.2 yards per carry. Indiana has struggled to find consistent success on the ground, and issues on the offensive line are a big reason for this.

Left tackle Caleb Jones has missed Indiana’s past two games, and last week was guard Mike Katic’s first return to action after being sidelined for multiple weeks. However, Saturday’s game presents a chance for Indiana to work out some of these flaws.

Maryland has given up the most rushing yards per game among Big Ten teams this season. The Terrapins also rank first in yards allowed per carry. Scott and James have showed in their careers at Indiana to be talented backs, and this matchup is the perfect time for the two to get back on track.

Another mobile QB

This has been a common theme for Indiana’s defensive gameplan so far and it is no different this week. The Hoosier defense has faced Sean Clifford, Noah Vedral, Joe Milton and Justin Fields, all of whom are considered mobile quarterbacks.

Indiana struggled to contain Clifford in the first game of the year, but had seen steady improvement stopping the quarterback run until last week. Fields rushed 15 times for 78 yards and one touchdown versus Indiana last week.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is not on the same level as the future first-round pick Fields, but is a serious threat with his feet. Tagovailoa is the younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and has shown great potential in his short time at Maryland after transferring from Alabama. 

Tagovailoa has rushed 18 times for 56 yards and two touchdowns. His most memorable run came on Oct. 30 versus Minnesota when Tagovailoa ran for a 39-yard touchdown. But Tagovailoa is perhaps more dangerous when extending plays with his feet in passing situations.

Tagovailoa’s speed and agility allow him to slip past pass rushers to free himself for passes down the field. He has thrown for 776 yards and six touchdowns this year. Tagovailoa is not afraid to go for the big play, and while this has worked in wins over Minnesota and Penn State, it was Maryland’s biggest downfall in its 43-3 loss to Northwestern.

In this game, Tagovailoa threw three interceptions and was just 14-for-25 on pass attempts. Maryland goes as Tagovailoa goes, and he is faced with his biggest challenge of the season against an Indiana secondary that has intercepted 13 passes this season. 

Rest versus rust

Due to COVID-19 cancellations, Maryland has only played three games this season. The Terrapins were demoralized week one by way of a 43-3 loss to Northwestern. But Maryland rebounded nicely in each of its next two games, defeating Minnesota 45-44 and earning a 35-19 statement win versus Penn State.

Because of these cancellations, Maryland has not taken the field since Nov. 7. While this has given the Terrapins plenty of time to prepare for Indiana, it could leave some rust to be shaken off on Saturday. Tagovailoa has also played just six games in his college career.

Indiana got a taste of how top-tier college football is played last week versus Ohio State, which could be a big advantage against a team that has had its past two games cancelled.

Oddly enough, Maryland looks like it could be the third best team in the Big Ten East. But then again, no one expected Indiana to be the clear-cut second best team in the division. 

Tagovailoa will look to regain the chemistry he built with fellow young and talented skill-position players during the first three weeks. Two of his favorite targets have been freshman Rakim Jarrett and sophomore Jeshaun Jones, who have developed quickly by learning from leading receiver junior Dontay Demus Jr. 

While the Terrapins may be inexperienced at other skill positions, running back Jake Funk will not be intimidated by the moment. The senior running back has appeared in 31 games dating back to 2016. An ACL tear and other injuries have hindered his ability to put together a complete season, but Funk is experiencing a breakout senior campaign.

Funk has rushed 43 times for 336 yards and two touchdowns, which is good for 7.8 yards per carry. The Indiana defensive line has shut running games down this season, versus Michigan and Michigan State, but will need a strong performance to contain Funk. 

The Hoosiers gained the respect of teams around the nation with its close loss to Ohio State last week, and can take take serious command of second place in the Big Ten East with a win over Maryland this week.

My name is Jack Ankony and I am a sophomore from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I am a huge Chicago sports fan who loves to write and talk about sports.

One Comment

  • Matthew Bollinger says:

    Jack ! Solid Article. Nice Summary my man..Well Done! Indiana and Northwestern adding GREAT spice to the usual Big-10 suspects.

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