For the Gophers, a promising 3-0 start to the season has turned to rubble as they remain 0-for in conference play after a 53-28 drubbing at the hands of previously winless Nebraska. The defense has fallen off completely of late, allowing 43 points per game in the last four contests.
Indiana also began the year 3-0 but has suffered mostly the same fate during conference play as the only victory came in a narrow seven-point win over Rutgers. The Hoosiers have been competitive in their matchups against the likes of Ohio State and Penn State but seem to crumble in the second half when it gets to crunch time.
Both teams still have a shot at obtaining bowl eligibility, but the chances to do so are winding down quickly. A win this week is a must.
Indiana at Minnesota
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Indiana -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback shuffle
Minnesota freshman walk-on quarterback Zack Annexstad left the game against Nebraska last weekend after suffering an internal midsection injury late in the first half and was taken to the hospital before joining the team on the flight home. Head coach P.J. Fleck said early in the week that a determination had not been made yet if Annexstad will see the field this week. Annexstad has also been dealing with a lingering ankle injury suffered on Sept. 15 against Miami (Ohio), so might it be in the cards to just sit and rest the true freshman this week? Backup Tanner Morgan would get the call if Annexstad was unavailable, and the redshirt freshman did show he was also capable of moving the offense, going 11-of-16 for 214 yards in the second half against the Cornhuskers.
2. Freshmen running backs
Whether due to injuries or suspensions, both Indiana and Minnesota have had to turn to freshman running backs in 2018, and both players have performed well in their first season of live action. Stevie Scott was forced into action Week 1 due to the suspension of Morgan Ellison and has been the primary ball-carrier ever since for the Hoosiers, leading the team with 695 yards and six rushing scores. The true freshman had his best performance of the year this past week against Penn State where he rushed for 138 yards and two TDs. For Minnesota, the season-ending injury to Rodney Smith hurt, but redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim has filled in well in his absence with 363 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games. Ibrahim had a career-best 157 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 on the road against Ohio State. Expect to see a heavy dosage of both backs on Friday night.
3. Struggling secondary
Nothing worked last week defensively against the Cornhuskers as Minnesota was gashed for 659 total yards on the day, but during the month of October, it has been the pass defense that has been shredded repeatedly. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley topped 300 yards and four touchdowns, followed by Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins throwing for 400+ yards and three touchdowns. And then last week, true freshman Adrian Martinez completed 86 percent of his throws for 276 yards and three scores. In comes Hoosiers QB Peyton Ramsey who is sixth in the Big Ten in passing at 233 yards per game and is currently second in the conference with a 68.5 percent completion rate. Could be a big day for the Indiana signal-caller against the Gophers.
This a must-win not only for bowl eligibility chances but for morale purposes as well with both teams on a downward spiral in Big Ten play. Even though the Hoosiers are struggling, it’s difficult to envision Minnesota getting the win despite having home-field advantage because of the way the Gophers are performing on both sides of the football of late. The defense continues to be gashed by opposing offenses on a consistent basis, while the offense lacks much identity at this point. Indiana gets a narrow road win and moves one step closer to that coveted six-win mark.
Prediction: Indiana 28, Minnesota 24
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.