Buckle up. Game week is here so let’s get right into this year’s first White Guy on Hardy Mismatch of the Week.
Indiana starts the year with a trip down to Miami to battle the Florida International Panthers and, likely, the elements. While it looks like most of the impact of the storm system currently drenching Florida should be north of Miami by kickoff Thursday, the best guess is that conditions will be wet.
While you always want the teams to play on a good field, sloppier conditions might not be all that bad for Indiana and the run game.
We certainly don’t need to rehash Indiana’s success in the running game last year. This year’s rushing attack should be more of the same.
The offensive line is projected to be one of the better units in the Big Ten and Deland McCullough has as strong of a stable of running backs as we’ve seen in the last decade. Nothing’s ever guaranteed, but provided the Indiana passing game is good enough to avoid 9 man boxes, they should be pretty solid.
On the other side of this matchup, Florida International’s 2015 rushing defense shouldn’t be talked about in polite company.
Go beyond your normal box score to get helpful information here. Their yards allowed per game against the rush was bad, but not unforgivable (ranked 83rd in the NCAA.) When you adjust the numbers against FIU’s slow tempo and generally weak strength of schedule, the picture gets uglier and more realistic.
44.1% of rushes made against the 2015 FIU defense went for at least 5 yards. The Panthers ranked 123rd in Rushing Defense S&P+. They were blown off the ball en route to giving up 91 adjusted line yards per game. Things got worse for FIU as the games went along — It was pretty ugly.
It’s also worthy of note that they lost 4 out of their top 5 tacklers on the defensive line last year. Of the 2016 players, they return only 7.9% of last year’s tackles along the defensive line.
This is not to say that things can’t turn around for their defense. 2015 was their first year under DC Matt House and they return a good bit of experience (from a pretty bad back 7) last year.
In fact, one area where FIU might have an advantage in defending the run game is on passing downs. Their squad ranked 4th nationwide in line yards per carry on passing downs, so it’s clear they did a great job of staying disciplined against the draw play. Indiana loved to run the ball on passing downs, running it 11% more often than the national average in such situations. Although it’s an area where they had a lot of success last year (22nd nationwide in success on those downs,) Indiana may have to adjust the playcalling sheet a bit in desperate situations.
But truthfully, that doesn’t change all that much of this week’s gameplan. When you’re looking for a way to break in a brand new quarterback on the road, Indiana has a pretty strong recipe for success on Thursday.