MINNEAPOLIS — Some of the numbers Indiana’s offense has put up this year are staggering.
The Hoosiers dropped 73 points in the season opener against Indiana State. They’ve passed for 22 touchdowns, second-most in the Big Ten (despite one fewer game than Ohio State, which has 24). Indiana also averages 342.7 passing yards per game, 10th-best in the nation.
Minnesota has certainly not seen an offense as explosive as the one it will face Saturday in Bloomington, but the Gophers feel they’re up for the test.
“They’re as good of an offense as we’ll play this year,” said Gophers safety Brock Vereen. “They’re fast-paced. They get their guys in space. They force you to make sound tackles. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
The Hoosiers’ biggest reason for success on the offensive side of the ball has been quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The sophomore has thrown for at least one touchdown in six of Indiana’s seven games. His average of 246.6 passing yards per game ranks third among Big Ten quarterbacks — a number that could be even higher if he wasn’t splitting snaps with fellow sophomore Tre Roberson. While Sudfeld puts up the gaudy stats, Roberson has played well as of late, throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns in Indiana’s 63-47 loss to Michigan two weeks ago.
Indiana has a trio of wide receivers that have scored five or more touchdowns, while Cody Latimer (four touchdowns) leads the team in receiving yards with 640. In all, six different Hoosiers have 12 or more receptions. By comparison, the Gophers have just one — Derrick Engel, who has 18 grabs.
The Gophers played a similar pass-happy team in San Jose State earlier this year managed to beat the Spartans despite 439 passing yards from quarterback David Fales. Now Minnesota’s secondary will have another stiff challenge.
“Passing game wise, they’ll be similar to San Jose State, spreading the field out and throwing it around like that,” said Gophers defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys. “They’ve got a better running game than San Jose State does, but passing game wise, that’s who they’re similar to.”
Indeed, the Hoosiers’ offense is not complete one-dimensional. Indiana ranks ninth in the big ten in rushing yards per game (171.3), but that’s enough of a ground game to force opponents to at least respect the run.
Sophomore running back Tevin Coleman leads the Hoosiers’ rushing attack with 656 yards on 102 carries (an average of 6.2 yards per carry) and has found the end zone nine times. Gophers head coach Jerry Kill and his staff recruited Coleman a bit out of Illinois, but were never able to secure an official visit from the Tinley Park native. Instead, he chose to stay closer to home and has become a threat for Indiana.
“They more or less use the pass, though, to set up the run, but they’re more than capable of keeping you off balance,” Claeys said. “They scored 47 points against Michigan, and a lot of that had to do with Michigan got caught in some pass defenses when they handed the ball off. (Coleman) had some good runs. He’s fast. Michigan State, he split their defense and they didn’t catch him. … He’s a good athlete. We’ll have to make sure that we respect the run.”
As was the case against San Jose State, Minnesota’s best defense against Indiana will likely be an offense that can win the time-of-possession battle. The Gophers limited Fales and the Trojans by dominating in that category, 41:02-18:58. Fales still managed to find time to throw 35 passes, but the damage he did could have been worse if Minnesota’s offense was giving the ball back more often.
The Hoosiers rank dead last in the Big Ten in time of possession, but Indiana’s quick-strike offense can score “from anywhere on the field,” Vereen said. Establishing a run game Saturday and chewing up valuable minutes on the clock will be the Gophers’ best chance to keep Sudfeld and Co. on the sideline.
That could very well translate into Minnesota’s third straight win.
“It’ll be a huge factor in this game because we know how explosive the Indiana offense is,” said Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson. “I think what we do offensively is a good counterpart to what they do good. As long as we can keep the ball in our hands, I think we have a good shot of coming away victorious.”