Big Ten East rivals aching for a win will meet this Saturday when the Indiana Hoosiers welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to Bloomington.
Both teams are looking to finish their seasons on a high note. Indiana (2-7) is the only Big Ten team that has yet to win a conference game (0-6) in 2021, while Rutgers (4-5, 1-5) only needs two more victories to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. The Hoosiers have lost five consecutive games after going 2-1 in non-conference play, while the Scarlet Knights have gone 1-1 in their last two games.
These teams have met seven times previously all since 2014 when Rutgers joined the Big Ten. Indiana leads the series 5-2 and has rattled off five straight wins.
Rutgers at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Indiana -7
When Rutgers Has the Ball
Through all of the adversity that the Scarlet Knights have gone through offensively, the two constants have been quarterback Noah Vedral and running back Isaih Pacheco. Over the team's last four games, Vedral has thrown for 579 yards although he's only completing half of his passes during the stretch. He's taken a lot of hits this season (been sacked 14 times) and was knocked out of last week's 52-3 beatdown courtesy of Wisconsin. He is expected to get the start on Saturday. If he can't go, either Evan Sirmon or Cole Snyder, who combined to go for 5-for-10 for 31 yards with an interception vs. the Badgers, will get the call.
Pacheco has 475 rushing yards on the season and is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Wide receiver Bo Melton is tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 43 receptions (for 473 yards). Melton and Pacheco have scored three touchdowns this season with running back Kyle Monangai leading the way in that department (four).
Rutgers is 11th in the Big Ten in both yards (327.2) and points (21.3) per game. But the Scarlet Knights' real issues have come in conference games where they are scoring just 11.5 points per contest. In the last four games alone, which includes their lone Big Ten victory over Illinois, the Knights have been outscored 118-43.
Indiana has had its share of defensive struggles. A year after finishing fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (20.3 ppg), the Hoosiers are dead last in the conference and 104th nationally at 31.3 points per game allowed. Stopping the pass has been a particular issue for IU, which is giving up 250 yards per game through the air along with 18 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Last season the Hoosiers recorded 17 picks in just eight games.
Even with these issues, Rutgers needs to be wary of Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden and defensive end Ryder Anderson. McFadden leads the team in tackles (65), sacks (6.5), and tackles for a loss (15.0) with Anderson second in the latter two categories (3.5, 8.0).
When Indiana Has the Ball
The Hoosiers' woes have not solely been on defense. Indiana is second to last in the Big Ten in total offense (310.6 ypg) and 12th in scoring offense (20.3 ppg). Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has only played in five games because of a shoulder injury. Jack Tuttle replaced him and started the next two games before suffering a foot injury. That has left the job to freshman Donaven McCulley. He has shown some flashes but he was just 10-for-24 against Michigan and pass protection continues to be a problem for Indiana. The Hoosiers have given up 23 sacks in nine games.
Some of the pass protection issues can be attributed to an inconsistent running game. For the season, IU is averaging 121 rushing yards per game. But in Big Ten games that drops to 104 per contest and the Hoosiers have produced just four rushing touchdowns in six games. To make matters worse, leading rusher Stephen Carr (600 yds., 10th in Big Ten, team-high seven total TDs) injured his ankle last week. If he's unable to go, it'll be up to some combination of Davion Ervin-Poindexter, Chris Childers, and Tim Baldwin Jr. to carry the load. Those three have combined for 375 rushing yards and two touchdowns this season.
Rutgers is right behind Indiana in the conference when it comes to total yards allowed per game (384.2). The Scarlet Knights have not been able to stop teams from running on them (161.7 ypg, 13th), and they've also been hurt through the air (16 TDs allowed, 5 INTs). Generating a pass rush (16 sacks) has contributed to Rutgers giving up so many big plays. The Knights have yielded a Big Ten-worst 13 plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or more.
It's been a rough season for Indiana, which has lost five in a row and is still searching for its first Big Ten victory. Rutgers could be just what the doctor ordered, as the Hoosiers have won their five last meetings with the Scarlet Knights. However, IU is really banged up and has issues on both sides of the ball while Rutgers can still go bowling with two more wins. The Knights have more on the line and that extra motivation will be enough to help them leave Bloomington with a hard-fought victory in a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Rutgers 17, Indiana 14
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— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.