BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) For Indiana, all eyes will be on the offensive backfield when the Hoosiers face Rutgers on Saturday.
Specifically, the focus will be on seeing whether quarterback Nate Sudfeld and tailback Jordan Howard are in the starting lineup.
Both players missed last week’s 29-7 loss to Penn State because of ankle injuries and neither player played in the fourth quarter the week before against top-ranked Ohio State.
Sudfeld and Howard are the top two options on offense as Indiana (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) looks to snap a two-game losing streak. Last year, Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) rallied from six points down at halftime to beat Indiana 45-23.
Sudfeld leads the Big Ten in yards passing per game (255.4), fewest interceptions (one) and is second in the conference in total offense, averaging 263.6 yards per game. Howard leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in yards rushing per game at 141.8.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said Monday that Sudfeld had seen his first extensive practice action the night before and that Howard had also got some running in. There has been no update on their conditions this week.
”(Sudfeld) did more last night at practice than any day last week,” Wilson said Monday in his weekly news conference. ”Jordan (Howard) was running last night. His deal is making cuts. We’ll see as we go through the week where he sets up.”
Rutgers’ defensive players insisted it doesn’t matter to them if Sudfeld or Howard are in the lineup.
”Honestly, I don’t look at it,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph said. ”I look at it as everyone is a starter. I don’t look at it as someone is hurt. We prepare (the same). That doesn’t even enter our mind. It’s all about us. What we need to do is to stop them. We don’t worry about who’s playing, who’s not playing. We just know they’re a great team and we have to stop them. It’s plain and simple.”
Here are some other things to watch this weekend:
INDIANA DEFENSE REMAINS OPPORTUNISTIC: Indiana leads the Big Ten and is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin with a plus-9. The Hoosiers are tied for first in the Big Ten with 12 takeaways and second in the conference with seven fumble recoveries. They have scored 58 points off the 12 turnovers including two interception returns for touchdowns.
BLOCKED KICK SPECIALISTS: Since 2009, Rutgers leads the nation with 43 blocked kicks (both field goals and punts). In fact, Rutgers has blocked at least four kicks per year since 2007. It took the Scarlet Knights six games to get their first one this season but that came last week when Djwany Mera blocked a field-goal attempt against Michigan State.
SPECIAL TEAMS IS STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: Rutgers is fourth in the Big Ten averaging 25.2 yards per kickoff return including a pair of touchdowns. All other Big Ten teams have combined for two kickoff return scores. The Scarlet Knights’ returners will have a challenge this week, however, facing Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes. Oakes leads the Big Ten and is 10th nationally with 25 touchbacks this season. Oakes also leads the conference in touchback percentage at 69.4 percent.
HOWARD NAMED TO MAXWELL WATCH LIST: Howard has missed the last 1 1/2 games for Indiana with an ankle injury but that didn’t stop him from being added Thursday to the Maxwell Award Watch List. The Maxwell Award is given to the top college football player each season. Howard is seventh nationally (and first in the Big Ten) averaging 141.8 yards rushing per game.
HOOSIERS LOOKING TO OPEN 5-2: After dropping decisions to Ohio State and Penn State the last two weeks, Indiana will have its third quest of a fifth win when it faces Rutgers. The last time Indiana was 5-2 in a season was in 2007. That was also the last time an IU team went to a bowl game. Prior to that, the last 5-2 start was in 1994.