We are now just a day away from the Foster Farms Bowl where Utah (8-4) will take the field for their final game of 2016 against the Indiana Hoosiers (6-6). For Utah it is a chance improve on Kyle Whittingham’s 9-1 bowl record and end the season on a high note after dropping 3 of the last 4 games. Indiana will be excited to be playing in their second bowl game in as many years, the first time Indiana has appeared in consecutive bowls since the 1990-91 seasons.
The Indiana football program experienced some drama earlier this month when Indiana coach Kevin Wilson resigned on December 1st amid allegations of player mistreatment. In his place former defensive coordinator, and now new head coach Tom Allen, will lead the Hoosiers against Utah. There was some concern in the Indiana program about the locker room splitting due to the changes, but players have said Allen has done a good job keeping them together and focused on the bowl game.
Indiana is a tougher out than their record would suggest. Coming out of the Big Ten East, the Hoosiers played in one of the toughest divisions in college football. 4 of their 6 losses came to teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time they played.
Indiana played better on the defensive side of the ball this season than the offensive side. The defense made significant improvements from last season under Allen, putting up respectable numbers this season in most categories. Against Utah their primary focus will be to stop Joe Williams and the Utah rushing attack.
Indiana is 47th in the country is rush defense allowing 152.45 yards per carry. They are much better on a per carry basis , ranking 25th in the country allowing 3.64 yards per carry. Linebacker Tegray Scales is an x-factor for the Hoosier defense and a player to keep an eye on. Scales won All american honors this season, leading the nation with 87 solo tackles and the Big Ten with 116 total tackles. That being said, the defensive front is beatable having allowed 18 touchdowns. Joe Williams will bring spped Indiana has not seen this year and the Utah offensive line should be able to get some push to grind out yards.
Against the pass, Indiana ranks 57th in the nation allowing 220.2 yards per game. They have allowed 18 touchdowns through the air, but have also come away with 12 interceptions. Troy Williams has struggled passing the ball down the stretch, but should be able to find his receivers for some big gains against the Hoosiers.
When Indiana has the ball they will be led by quarterback Richard Lagow, who has been spotty this season throwing 18 touchdowns, but also 16 interceptions. Devine Redding leads the team with 1,050 rushing yards and has 6 touchdowns. Nick Westbrook is the leading receiver with 49 catches for 915 yards and 5 touchdowns. Offensive guard Dan Feeney earned All-American honors, but his presence alone won’t be enough to stop Utah’s talented defensive front.
Utah’s red zone issues are well known, however they will be in good company when playing Indiana on Wednesday. The Hoosiers have converted just 32 of 45 red zone attempts this season, worse than the Utes and ranking 126th in the country. It’s not often Utah has an advantage in red zone efficiency, but I’m sure the team is happy to have it for this game. Overcoming red zone woes will be a key for both teams to win the game.
Utah matches up well with Indiana in this game. Utah is built to run the ball and play physical football in the mold of many of the Big Ten teams Indiana faced this season. The Utes have struggled when facing teams that have better athletes, something Indiana does not have. Utah holds the talent advantage on offense, defense and special teams.
Kyle Whittingham’s 9-1 bowl record speaks for itself, while Indiana is undergoing an unwanted coaching change and sorting through program turmoil. This game feels like it is Utah’s to lose. That doesn’t mean Indiana can’t come out and surprise, but Utah’s bowl performances are historically some of their best games of the season. I expect something similar with many players returning healthy and over a month for the coaching staff to prepare.