The Hoos (1-0) will hit the road this weekend with revenge on their mind. They'll look to avenge a 34 to 17 loss to Indiana last season in the back half of a home and away series. And when they hit the field in Bloomington, they'll be wearing white from head to toe.
But besides looking nice, what will it take to win this game?
First, go ahead and add a sticky post to the football section of HOOS Place that says "get off the field on third down". That's the very essence of defense in football. It's going to be just as important this week as it was last week (and will be next week too).
What, specifically about Indiana, do I think will be important?
Contain Peyton Ramsey
Last season, the Hoos prepared for Indiana starter Richard Lagow, who at 6-6 and 240 pounds was a statue in the pocket. A 3 for 10 start with one interception found Lagow pulled from the game early. Enter redshirt freshman Ramsey who went 3 for 10 the prior week in his career debut in the Hoosiers' opener against Ohio State. Ramsey was smaller than the super-sized Lagow, and thus, more mobile. UVA's defense had issues adjusting to Ramsey's style and in what became a theme during the season had issues limiting the opponent when the QB got out of the pocket.
As a reminder of what Ramsey was able to accomplish outside of the pocket, just take a look at these two touchdowns.
Cincinnati Elder grad Peyton Ramsey has 2 TDs, both passing and rushing, for the Hoosiers as IU leads Virginia 17-3. Here's his rushing TD. pic.twitter.com/VHlxrdH9yO— The PUP List (@ThePUPListBlog) September 9, 2017
There's reason to believe that the UVA defense will do a better job in this matchup. First, they know what to expect from Ramsey. There's plenty of film on him now and they've played against him before. Second, they have another year of practice and film time in the coaching staff's defense. Knowledge and repetition matter. Finally, practicing against Bryce Perkins and his talents can only help prepare the team for Ramsey and any other mobile QB on the schedule.
Play To A Draw On Special Teams
I read a great message board post this week that chronicled how a string of special teams domination by Indiana last season changed a 3 to 0 UVA lead in the second quarter into a 17 to 3 UVA deficit by halftime. Poor kick coverage, an uncharacteristically poor Lester Coleman punt leading to a long IU return, and a rare shanked punt by Coleman were the miscues. The result? Two touchdowns for the Hoosiers and a 51 yard field goal to close out the scoring in the second quarter.
The special teams domination continued in the second half as Indiana added a 48 yard field goal (UVA didn't have one 40 yards or longer the entire season) and a 44 yard punt return touchdown to close out the scoring in the game.
In a 34 to 17 win, you can directly attribute 27 points for Indiana to poor special teams play by UVA or exceptional special teams play by the Hoosiers.
Things must improve this weekend and I believe they will. Lester Coleman is the best returning punter in the ACC this season. Odds are against him producing those same results against Indiana this season. A full-time special teams coach should improve the kick coverage units. But UVA's field goal kicking operation remains a sore point following the season opener against Richmond. The Hoosiers do have a new kicker this season so some regression on their end in the kicking game would not be a surprise.
Match Their Toughness
As last season's game concluded, I recall one of my takeaways being that Indiana was a terribly physical football team. Lagow was a specimen even though he didn't last long. Simmie Cobbs Jr. at wide receiver and Ian Thomas at tight end were a handful. And on defense, linebackers Chris Covington and Tegray Scales were rugged players that loved to deliver a big hit.
The good news is that all of those players have moved on and all but Lagow are playing in the NFL now. There's no reason to expect Indiana to be any less physical this season, especially playing at home, however. The toughness angle played out last season in losses to Boston College, Pitt, and Navy too in my opinion.
It will be up to the Hoos to rise to the challenge. I expect that players like Bryce Perkins, Hasise Dubois, Jordan Ellis, Joe Reed, OZ, Mandy Alonso, Eli Hanback, Chris Peace, Malcolm Cook, Bryce Hall, and Juan Thornhill will answer the bell.
UVA's depth and experience issues on the defense line are well known by now. There's no need to review them once again here.
Last season, the Hoos had the next to worst run defense in the ACC on a yards per game basis. If the team is to reach their goals this season, the run defense is the most obvious place to find improvement on that side of the ball.
In last year's game, Indiana managed only 111 yards on 41 carries (2.7 yards per carry). In their season opener at Florida International last week, Indiana rung up 213 rushing yards on 45 carries (4.7 yards per carry). Against Richmond, the Hoos surrendered only 34 yards on 19 carries (1.8 yards per carry).
Despite a depleted depth chart at running back due to suspension and injury issues, Indiana will present a much larger challenge on the ground for the Hoos than Richmond ever could. They'll supplement things with Ramsey's legs if necessary. And most concerning is that Indiana features a deep, and large, offensive line.
It's the perfect antidote to UVA's depth issues on the defensive line. The Hoos' excellent secondary will allow UVA's linebacker corps to provide major help in run support. But in what figures to be a game of attrition and contest of wills, most probably in the rain, will it be enough?
I think that the Hoos will be up to the challenge on special teams. And I'm not about to say that this group isn't tough enough to hang with an average B1G team. It all comes down to containing Ramsey and stopping Indiana's run.
Last season against IU, Jordan Mack led the team with 16 tackles (7 solo) in his second game at inside linebacker. With an entire year under his belt at the position, I'm looking for another huge game from Mack. He's perfectly suited for the assignment of stopping Ramsey when he leaves the pocket or tries to run.
Indiana's running game does scare me, however. Let's be honest that Richmond wasn't much of a challenge on the ground, especially considering that they were replacing 4 of 5 starters on the OL. This will be a real challenge and give us some idea about what the Hoos really have in the front seven.
As a result, I'm expecting Indiana to eek out a close one in their home opener.
24 to 21 Indiana