Special thanks to Kyle Robbins from Crimson Quarry for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to follow him on twitter @kylerrobbins and check out Crimsonquarry.com for great coverage of Indiana athletics.
1. Indiana started off so well this season, going 4-0 in non-conference play, but has dropped their last six in a row. What's happened to the Hoosiers? Did they just run into a buzz saw of a schedule,or has something else led to them being winless in the B1G so far?
Crimson Quarry: Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Honestly, all you can do is laugh at this point. It's how you maintain some sanity. Indiana is a far better football team than the 4-6 record indicates. They were 5 yards away from knocking off Ohio State at home with a backup quarterback and running back. They had the ball in Michigan State territory on the road in the 4th quarter with a chance to take the lead in the mid fourth-quarter before a questionable decision to punt. They somehow managed to not recover an onside kick against Iowa that two Hoosiers fell on at the same time. And then Michigan. They hung 41 points on that defense. Michigan needed a touchdown with no time left to tie the game. Indiana still scored first in overtime. But Pete Carroll'd it on 4th and Goal from the one in the second.
This doesn't even account for the magical 25-point fourth quarter collapse against Rutgers, or the Penn State game the team tried to play with a skeleton crew.
I don't know, man. I don't know how much pain I can take anymore. That's the hardest thing for Indiana fans this season -- we know this team IS good. We know the program has made strides. But instead of celebrating victories and eyeing poll rankings and higher bowl placements, the record ain't much different than it's ever been. If you haven't watch Indiana, you're looking at the standings and going same ol' Indiana. It's not the full truth, but football is a game driven by results. Indiana is a good football team and Kevin Wilson is a dang good football coach. He should be at Indiana long after this season. Still, some fans are upset because they just can't seem to figure out how to get it done at the end, and that's all that matters in this game.
2. Indiana had to replace Tevin Coleman at running back but Jordan Howard has done a remarkable job replacing him, leading the B1G in rushing yards per game. Was the UAB transfer expected to be this good this year? How can teams slow Howard down?
CQ: Howard was expected to be good -- but this good? I don't know. He's really been It's hard to not WHAT IF Howard's season, too. He suffered an ankle injury early in the Ohio State game, and then held him out for two more games after that at Penn State and at home against Rutgers. Indiana's blessed with a fantastic offensive line, no less than two members will play on Sundays in Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs, so they were able to compensate for his loss with other backs. Those guys don't get near enough credit. But still, Indiana is night and day with Howard in the lineup. Even when he admitted to still being not 100% for the Michigan State and Iowa games, Howard still got more than his money's worth against those defenses.
As for slowing him down, I don't know that there's a great answer to that. The only time he's really been slowed down, per se, is when he was dinged up on that ankle. He's certainly not the speed back Coleman was, Howard is far more of a tough yards runner. He's consistent -- rarely is he going to rip off a huge gain, but it's always 6-8 yards. Kevin Wilson likes to say he "never falls backward." He likes to hit you. So there's a chance, if that ankle does flare up and he's forced to carry a heavy workload, he could struggle to keep up with Indiana's fast pace toward the end of the game. He had to come off the field toward the end of the Iowa game after rattling off 175+ yards due to that ankle, so that's something to keep an eye on.
3. What has been the biggest surprise of the season so far for Indiana? The biggest disappointment?
CQ: Surprise -- hmmm. That's tough to say. I wouldn't call Howard a surprise, the offensive line was a known quantity along with Nate Sudfeld. Griffen Oakes stacking up with Brad Craddock as the Big Ten's top two kickers didn't shock anyone. Probably -- even though they've struggled with drops at times -- the receiving corps. They lost J-Shun Harris before the season to an ACL injury, JUCO star Camion Patrick was ruled ineligible, and Dominique Booth seems to be eyeing a medical redshirt for a rumored rib injury. With all that, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige hadn't seen a ton of run before this season, and they've both performed more than admirably.
Disappointment? Defensive secondary. They've been bad. Real bad. I don't really wanna talk about it any more because I'm starting to shake thinking about it. Ugggggggggghhhhhh.
4 Both Maryland and Indiana are winless in B1G play so far this year, which means both school are very much now in basketball mode since we're both #BasketballSchools, so here's a basketball question. How good does Indiana have to be this year for Tom Crean to keep his job and what do you think the ceiling is for this year's team?
CQ: I'll say this: Indiana fans aren't TOTALLY in basketball mode yet. There's going to be a decent amount of attention on this game from the Indiana side, because of the desire to get to a bowl game. Most Indiana fans have known for some time the season would come down to getting these two wins -- so there should be some nervousness amongst the state on Saturday.
As for basketball, well, you're asking at a bad time -- because it's the day after one of the best Indiana basketball performances I've seen since the Indiana-Maryland game in Bloomington last year. Right now, I'll drink the kool-aid. Thomas Bryant looks every bit the real deal, and Indiana ran what was supposed to be a decent Creighton team out of the building last night. More importantly than the hot-shooting offense, they held Creighton to just 65 points, which is something for this Indiana team. I've consumed a ton of a college basketball in the last week, and four teams have jumped off the page to me: Kentucky, Butler, Michigan State, and, yeah, Indiana. That said, it's November. It means nothing.
We'll say a 4/5 seed and 1/2 tourney wins is enough for Crean to stick around in Bloomington. But that will change many times throughout the season, I'm sure.
5. Complete this sentence: ___________ will win on Saturday because _________.
CQ: Maryland will win on Saturday because Indiana is the better team that will find a wonderful, tremendous way to lose it. Indiana is the better team in this football game. I'm sure of that, at least on the offensive side of the ball. They've proved that in all these close losses against top teams. They also have figured out how to break my heart in fantastic fashion. I can't deal with that anymore, y'all. Generally, when I've picked Indiana, they lose. If I pick against them, they win. I'm picking Maryland. Sue me.