New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Indiana-Duke

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Imagine the following scenario.

You have two schools well-known for their prowess on the basketball court getting together on a temporary football field the day after Christmas to play a bowl game in perhaps the most venerated baseball stadium in the world.

That’s exactly what will be the case on Saturday as Indiana takes on Duke in the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at famed Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, NY. Both institutions have a storied history on the hardwood, having won five college basketball national titles apiece including the Blue Devils’ most recent crown earlier this year. And the two actually played each other earlier this month in the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge.

As successful as they’ve been in hoops, it’s been quite a different story on the gridiron for the most part.

Duke’s last ACC title, which they shared with Virginia, came when they were coached by Steve Spurrier in 1989. For IU, it goes much further back into the past when they were co-Big Ten champs with Minnesota and Purdue back in 1967. The last time either program won a conference title outright was in 1962 for the Blue Devils and 1945 for the Hoosiers.

This will be just the fourth all-time meeting between the schools and the first since September 8, 1984, a 31-24 win for Duke in Durham. Indiana took the other two previous meetings, both of which were held in Bloomington during the 1980 and 1983 seasons.

Saturday’s showdown in the Big Apple is an opportunity for the two teams to showcase their respective programs on a national stage. With the game being broadcast on ABC and both schools with strong alumni bases in the New York City area, it should make for a great atmosphere. That, in and of itself, should also enhance the selling point aspect of the contest to high school recruits of which bowls indelibly play a role.

Having said all that, let’s delve into what these two teams are expected to bring to the table when they meet on the field Saturday.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Indiana vs. Duke

Saturday, December 26th, 3:30 PM (ABC)

Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY

Latest Line: Indiana by 2.5

Over/Under: 71

Indiana

The Hoosiers began the season on a roll, finishing their non-conference schedule a perfect 4-0. That included a 38-35 win over a Western Kentucky team which would eventually win Conference USA and finish the season with 12 wins including their Miami Beach Bowl triumph over South Florida on Monday. All IU needed to do was win just two of eight in Big Ten play and they’d be virtually assured of a bowl berth.

But things slowly began to turn south once IU moved into conference play. Though there were bright spots, including losses to Big Ten runner-up Iowa as well as league big boys Ohio State and Michigan by an average of just 7.3 points, they also blew a 52-27 lead at home in the fourth quarter to Rutgers, eventually falling 55-52. With just two games to go in the year, the Hoosiers found themselves winless in the Big Ten and 4-6 overall, needing a two-game end of season road winning streak to go bowling.

Even that objective appeared to be in jeopardy early on against Maryland as they fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter. It was then the Hoosiers proceeded to score 44 unanswered points against the Terps, eventually winning 47-28. A week later against their Old Oaken Bucket rivals Purdue, they had virtually no trouble en route to a 54-36 win that ensured bowl eligibility for the Cream and Crimson.

In a season that started with so much promise yet was fraught with numerous pitfalls on the road to its ultimate conclusion, seeing this IU team finish the way it did is truly a testament to its resolve and ability to overcome adversity.

Through it all, Indiana’s offense truly shined. The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense along with finishing second in rushing. Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld led the league with 289.5 passing yards per game and finished in the top 20 nationally. Despite missing three games due to injury, running back Jordan Howard was one of just four Big Ten players to rush for over 1,000 yards. Only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott averaged more yards per game.

Much of the success on offense can be attributed to a dominant offensive line that includes guard Dan Feeney and tackle Jason Spriggs, both of whom were named all-Big Ten. Spriggs was also a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy given to the nation’s most outstanding interior offensive lineman. Indiana’s 13 sacks allowed was eighth best in the nation.

The Hoosiers will be making their first bowl appearance since the 2007 Insight Bowl and just their second since 1993. With a win, the Hoosiers would notch only their fourth bowl victory all-time and their first since the 1991 Copper Bowl. It would also clinch their third winning season in 22 years. With this being Kevin Wilson’s fifth year as head coach, it is hoped that Saturday’s game will be the beginning of a springboard towards bigger and better things for Indiana football.

Duke

At one point, this season appeared to be a continuation of the previous two for Duke. The Blue Devils made an ACC title game appearance in 2013, finished 9-4 last year and found themselves at 6-1 while also ranked 18th in the coaches poll after week nine of 2015.

Then the Miami game happened. Or more specifically, the wild finish that saw the Hurricanes field a kickoff return with six seconds left and after eight laterals score a miracle touchdown as time expired to break Duke hearts. And it was not without controversy.

The Dukies would then proceed to lose their next two against North Carolina and Pittsburgh by a combined 97-44.  After a 42-34 loss to Virginia a week later, the Blue Devils suddenly found themselves at 6-5 and looking for answers. A season-ending victory over Wake Forest allowed them to close the regular season on a somewhat positive note. However, there had to have still been some semblance of a deep wound after what transpired on that fateful Halloween night against the Canes.

None of that should take away from what the Duke program has accomplished under eighth-year head coach David Cutcliffe. During his tenure to this point, he has tallied 47 wins. To put that in perspective, the previous four Duke head coaches had 43 dating back to the 1990 season. Athletic director Kevin White, much like his IU counterpart in Fred Glass, has exhibited a great deal of patience with Cutcliffe and the program has certainly reaped the benefits.

Indiana will undoubtedly have their hands full with a highly talented dual-threat quarterback in Thomas Sirk. The redshirt junior leads the Blue Devils in rushing with 648 net yards on the ground and is third in the ACC with 3,110 yards of total offense. He’s not the only signal caller on the team that can give the opposition fits with his feet, as their second-stringer Parker Boehme has added five touchdowns on the ground to add to Sirk’s six.

On defense, the Blue Devils boast one of the most unique talents in the secondary you’re likely to see in the nation. Senior safety Jeremy Cash finished the season with 18 tackles for loss which was by far the most for any player at his position among FBS schools. He also led the team with 2.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. For his efforts, he collected ACC defensive player of the year honors and was a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy given to the nation’s best player on defense.

What To Expect

It’s often said that the battle at the line of scrimmage is what ultimately determines who wins football games. That fact will be on full display between these two teams who boast two of the top offensive lines in the country. A good measure of solid play in the trenches is how effective teams can limit negative plays in both run blocking and pass protection.  This can be done by calculating number of rushes per tackle for loss in the case of the run game as well as passes per sack in the pass game. The higher this number, the better.

Duke is second in the ACC in both rushes per tackle for loss (9.56) as well as passes per sack (29.31). IU led the Big Ten in the former category (8.52) while finishing second in the conference in the latter (31.46). Looking at these numbers by themselves would appear to give the Duke offensive front the edge in creating space for the run game while the Hoosiers seem to be superior in giving Sudfeld time to throw.

Though the Hoosiers showed improvement on defense in their two late-season wins, they may still need to outscore the opposition in order to emerge victorious. Fortunately for the Cream and Crimson, Howard should be fully healthy for this one. Sudfeld should also be able fling it around against a Duke pass defense that was third-worst in the ACC.

In the end, this is a matchup between two schools with a lot in common both athletically as well as academically. Both boast top-notch business schools ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s top 25. Both live and breathe college basketball. And both, though historically horrific in that other big-time collegiate sport, have made great strides to reverse the trend.

Perhaps being able play in a venue that houses one of America’s most iconic sports franchises and oozes an aura of championship success is another ingredient to be added in these two teams recipe for establishing a winning tradition.

Prediction: Indiana 41, Duke 37

Photo courtesy of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.