Match-up: Indiana (Big Ten) vs. Duke (ACC)
Spread: Indiana (-2)
Location: Yankee Stadium. Bronx, New York
When: December 26th at 3:30 PM
Where to Watch: ABC
This will mark the first bowl appearance for the Hoosiers since 2007, and it will take place in a baseball stadium against another basketball program. Going to any bowl game is considered a success for Indiana, as the Hoosiers have not been involved in a postseason game since 1993. However, after starting 4-0 for the first time in 25 years for the program, the Hoosiers had to win their final two games just to qualify for a bowl game. Kevin White’s team can be dangerous, though. The Hoosiers took Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan to the wire at home and were competitive in East Lansing against the Spartans for three quarters. Led by quarterback Nate Sudfeld who had a strong year, Indiana should pose a major threat to the Duke defense.
Players to Watch:
Nate Sudfeld (QB): It all starts with the senior signal caller, as Sudfeld led the Big Ten in passing yards this season by throwing for 3,184 yards and 24 touchdowns. He can sling it with the best of them, and his ability to stretch opposing defenses with his big arm will be something to watch out for in this game. Sudfield isn’t the most mobile guy in the world, so keeping him in the pocket should be a point of emphasis for the Blue Devils.
Jordan Howard (RB): Hoosiers bruising tailback Jordan Howard missed the three games this season with knee and ankle injuries that hampered him all season and prevented him from fulfilling his full potential in this offense. But when healthy, he rushed for 1,213 yards and was one of the toughest running backs to stop in the Big Ten. If he’s back anywhere close to 100 percent, look for Howard to have a major impact on this game.
How Indiana Can Win
Be balanced. It’s really that simple for the Hoosiers, as they will be going against a middle-of-the-pack Duke defense who ranked 47th in total defense this season. In addition, the Blue Devils were tied for 84th in red zone defense. If the combination of Sudfeld and Howard can help consistently move the chains, it will manufacture into a lot of points. If those two can get it going early on, Duke will have all sorts of problems.
The Blue Devils were off to a scorching 6-1 start before losing four of their last five games to finish at a disappointing 7-5. After posting 10 and 9 win totals in 2013 and 2014 respectively, David Cutcliffe’s team faltered down the stretch in 2015. Turnovers were a big reason, as Duke tied for just 51st in the country in turnovers lost with 18, including 11 fumbles lost. If they turn it over any point during this Pinstripe Bowl game, they will not win the game. Period.
Players to Watch:
Thomas Sirk (QB): The junior quarterback’s first year as the starter was pretty solid overall. Sirk completed 60 percent of his passes, including 15 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. He threw for nearly 2,500 yards, and posted a better quarterback rating than former program star Anthony Boone. However, it’s Sirk’s duel-threat ability that could really pose problems for Indiana, as he led his team in rushing this year with posting over 600 yards on the ground, including 6 touchdowns. Look for him to make an impact on this game both on the ground and through the air.
Jeremy Cash (FS): The 6-foot-2, 210 pound safety had an unbelievable season for the Blue Devils, which resulted in him earning Second-Team All-America honors, including Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC. Cash posted mind boggling numbers for a safety, totaling 101 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, eight quarterback pressures, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery on the season. So yeah, this kid does it all. The senior will be off to the NFL next season, right after he makes his presence felt in the Pinstripe Bowl.
How Duke Can Win:
Led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash, this Blue Devils defense is going to have to create turnovers early and often against Indiana. They must do that by blitzing Nate Sudfeld the entire ball game and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Sudfeld does not like to roll out of the pocket and make plays with his legs, so getting after him with aggressive play calls defensively has to be the focal point in the game for Duke.
Final Score Prediction: Indiana wins 35-17.
Christian Reilly: @CReillyTV