This Saturday the Indiana Hoosiers (1-1) take to Lucas Oil Stadium where they will face the Louisville Cardinals (2-0).
Indiana’s season thus far consists of two opponents of vastly different capabilities. Ohio State, while a challenge, proved that Indiana was not a team to take lightly. The defense allowed only 23 points — the fewest points IU has allowed to Ohio State since 1993. They also shut down the production of Ohio State’s star players Marvin Harrison Jr. and Treyveon Henderson. The offense on the other hand left plenty to be desired, only putting up three points.
The offense did show up in Friday’s game against Indiana State, scoring 41 points. Some of those points came from three of Indiana’s top running backs, who all rushed for at least one touchdown. Not to mention, this game was a breakout game for a few players, including Omar Cooper Jr., who boasted over 100 yards over seven receptions, and Tayven Jackson who was 18-for-21 for 236 yards. Following that performance, head coach Tom Allen named Jackson the starting quarterback for Indiana.
All that said, Louisville will likely be the most evenly matched opponent for IU up to this point. That is not to say the game will be easy.
Head coach for the Cardinals, Jeff Brohm, is no stranger to Allen or Indiana after spending six years at Purdue. Brohm currently has a 4-1 record against the Hoosiers and is looking to tack on another win.
"I have a lot of respect for Indiana, coach Allen and his football team," Brohm said. "You’ve got to put the work in to win at a high level in the Big Ten at Indiana and Purdue. I understand that. Coach Allen loves the game. He has great passion for his players. We’ve got to go up there and win the football game.”
This is a tough Louisville team that fights all the way to the end as it proved in its season opener at Georgia Tech. Trailing 28-13 at halftime, the Cardinals shut out Georgia Tech in the second half to get the win.
It was an entire game shutout last Saturday against Murray State, 56-0. Quarterback Jack Plummer threw for 247 yards. Jamari Thrash, one of Plummer’s favorite targets, had 82 yards off just three receptions. Jawhar Jordan had 135 rushing yards on seven carries and had two of the team’s eight touchdowns.
This will be a very intriguing matchup, and a close one at that. That being said, here are my three keys for Indiana to win this game.
Make time for Tayven
Jackson did not look as comfortable against Ohio State as he did against Indiana State. He was under considerably more pressure and only made five pass attempts, completing just one. Call it first game jitters, call it Ohio State, Indiana cannot afford that from its starting quarterback all season.
The offensive line has been one of, if not the weakest point on the team for the past few years. Right now, they look the best they have looked in quite a while. They are also at their full strength, with Matthew Bedford back from an ACL tear. Protecting the quarterback, as it is their job, should not be impossible for this group but it will be a challenge.
Louisville’s defensive line has improved drastically in the past two years. In 2021, the defensive line was responsible for only 26 of 87.5 of the team’s tackles for loss, and the team ranked 83rd nationally in total defense, 42nd in sacks and 49th in tackles for loss. In 2022, the Cardinals were ranked 23rd nationally in total defense, first in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss.
More protection means Jackson will have more time to find his passing options — and Indiana has plenty.
Indiana has multiple offensive weapons in the wide receiver room, but that is futile when a quarterback cannot convert. Cooper and Donaven McCulley are just some of the reliable receivers who are capable of making plays. Cam Camper and E.J. Williams are also two of the bigger names in the group, however both went down with injuries last week and their current status has not been disclosed.
The running back room also offers some options. Jaylin Lucas is perhaps the biggest offensive weapon the Hoosiers possess. It is not unusual to see him in the slot. The bigger running backs such as Josh Henderson and Christian Turner are good players to have in the backfield to assist with blocking and protection who can also take a handoff or pitch and be ready to take off.
If the offense can protect, then it is up to Jackson from there. Evaluate the options, do not force unnecessary plays, and gain/maintain confidence in the pocket.
Otherwise, the Indiana offense will see too many three-and-outs and the Indiana defense will be exhausted by the second quarter.
Make Louisville’s offense one-dimensional by forcing the Cardinals to pass
This might sound like an outlandish take, considering Thrash continues to improve and impress, currently averaging 17 yards per reception. Kevin Coleman is another receiver making himself a prominent part of the Cardinal’s offense. Plummer has plenty of targets he is comfortable throwing to.
He is also comfortable handing it off to Jordan who is 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game and is responsible for almost half of the team’s rushing yards so far this season. Slowing a guy like Jordan down will be a challenge to say the least. If they can limit his production it will not only be a huge advantage, but give Indiana a legitimate chance to win the game.
Obviously whenever you can force an opponent to a single option that is big. I think the rush has been dealt with well, but if a team cracks the front seven they can get away quicker than the defense realizes. A few yards at a time adds up quickly and takes up time.
Aaron Casey and Jacob Magnum-Farrar have done a good job containing the opposing offense. Casey leads the team with 18 total tackles so far this season. Andre Carter, Philip Blidi and Marcus Burris Jr. are some of the bigger guys on the line that Indiana brought in this year. They have done what they have been asked to do. Carter, a transfer from Western Michigan, said during fall camp that this defensive line was the best he has ever been on.
If these guys can pull together to contain the rush, the pass game is manageable. The Hoosiers seem to be more than capable of defending the pass game, referring back to Ohio State when they contained one of the best receiver rooms in the country. On Friday, Indiana State only completed three passes.
Throwing the ball also creates more opportunities for turnovers. The Hoosiers have an interception in both games but are expecting much more — especially with the incentive of the turnover belt.
Philip Dunnam had the first interception, and no one was surprised. Allen and other coaches and players told the media that Dunnam routinely interrupts the offense during practice.
Make adjustments and execute
Indiana has a history of not changing what is not working. Game after game Indiana continues to run the same play up the middle with little to no variation and limited success.
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell acknowledged that after the Ohio State game, saying he played “pitter-patter” too long.
The Indiana State game looked better, seeing a good mix of pass and rush game. Both quarterbacks seemed more collected and proved they were able to do both. When injuries occurred, other players stepped up. The more diverse play-calling was probably the best result of this game. It does have to be considered that it was an FCS opponent and not the best game to judge off, but it cannot be said that it did not show promise.
Louisville will be a better judge of that. Brohm is one of the best play-callers in college football. He knows when, where and how to make adjustments. Indiana needs to recognize what it needs to change, counter the opponent’s adjustments, and then deploy and execute on the field, specifically in the second half.
As I mentioned, Louisville is a team capable of fighting until the clock says zero. The Cardinals have already clawed their way back from the grave to win a game. Indiana’s history cannot say the same.
Indiana was only a score behind Ohio State at the half, but could not muster up the energy to stay in the game long enough to produce any offense. Against Indiana State, the second quarter looked drastically different than the first. The defense slowed and Indiana allowed the Sycamores to march down field in the second longest drive of the game at over six minutes.
Even going back to last season, too many games were decided in the fourth quarter that could have resulted in a more favorable outcome for Indiana. With the right adjustments and with the energy to execute the adjustments, Indiana would find itself in a lot more games.
All of these keys seem rather obvious, and they are. Saturday will not be a walk in the park for either team. If the Hoosiers can carry out all of these keys, they will be a competitor in this game.
If not, Indiana fans might be halfway to Bloomington by the third quarter.