The best line yet about the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl is that it features a pair of basketball teams playing football at a baseball stadium. By the time the day is over, it’s possible fans could see as many points as they would at a hoop contest, thanks to Indiana’s high-powered offense and generous defense.
This doesn’t exactly feature a matchup of national powers, thanks to the teams’ combined 13-11 record. Indiana hopes to continue the momentum it generated at the end of the season, when it won a pair of games, while Duke is hoping to reverse its difficult finish. Both teams could use a win to generate progress moving forward, especially Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson, whose seat cooled a bit thanks to the bowl bid but who could use something positive heading into next season.
Duke vs. Indiana (Bronx, N.Y.)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Indiana -2
Three Things to Watch
1. On the Run
Indiana hopes that Jordan Howard, who has gained 1,213 yards, scored nine times and averaged 6.2 yards per carry, is ready to go after missing the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury. If Howard can’t play, and the early indications are that he will be all right, Devine Redding isn’t a bad backup plan. He rushed for 274 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in the final two games, both wins. Whoever is the main back gets to run behind a line that features All-America tackle Jason Spriggs and All-Big Ten first-team guard Dan Feeney. They will have a big challenge, though, because Duke ranks 38th nationally in run defense and allows enemy backs to gain just 3.4 yards per attempt.
2. Up and Down
The teams enter this game on different streaks. After dropping its first six Big Ten games, the last a tough double-OT decision at Michigan, Indiana finished with a flourish, piling up 103 points in its final two games, both victories, to earn a bowl berth. The Hoosiers have scored 40-plus points three straight games for the second time in school history (1917) and have a balanced attack featuring Howard/Redding and QB Nate Sudfeld. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, dropped four of their last five and stagger into the postseason for the second straight year. Last year, a pair of November losses cost Duke the ACC Coastal Division title. That’s not the best way to gather momentum necessary to win the program’s first bowl game since 1960.
3. The Defense Rests
Indiana may have scored a lot of points during the past three games, but it surrendered plenty during that stretch – and during the rest of the season. The Hoosiers give up 39.6 points per game and 6.4 yards per play, so don’t be surprised if Duke has a breakout game offensively. The key to the Blue Devil attack is QB Thomas Sirk, who has run for 648 yards and six scores and thrown for 2,462 yards and 15 touchdowns. If he gets loose, Duke could have a big day.
This one will be entertaining, if nothing else. Indiana can score, even if Jordan Howard isn’t at full strength, but it also gives up a bunch of points. Don’t be surprised if this one goes down to the last possession.
An x-factor for both teams could be their specialists. Duke kicker Ross Martin has made 23-of-27 field goals and is 7-of-8 beyond 40 yards. Meanwhile, return specialist Devon Edwards has brought three kickoffs back for touchdowns. Indiana’s Griffin Oakes has converted 15 of his 17 tries this year.
Prediction: Indiana 41, Duke 38
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.