It’s not a stretch to say that when Indiana takes the field on Saturday afternoon, it could kick off what is arguably the most important stretch of Tom Allen’s career.
Sitting at 4-2 and just two wins shy of a bowl game, Indiana has a legitimate shot to not only achieve the six wins they have so desperately sought for the last few seasons but to achieve that mark before the end of October.
Indiana will take road trips to Maryland then Nebraska, before coming home to face Northwestern at the beginning of November and conclude a three-week stretch that sees the Hoosiers play winnable games each week.
What remains to be seen is if the Hoosiers can take advantage of the opportunity.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get back on track to the Hoosier’s upcoming opponent, the Maryland Terrapins.
Maryland has been somewhat of an odd team to figure out, starting the season in blistering fashion by outscoring their first two opponents, Howard and Syracuse, by a combined 142-20 scoreline. The outstanding performances earned Maryland a spot in the top-25, their first appearance since the 2013 season.
Yet since that point, Maryland has trended in the opposite direction.
The Terps have dropped three of their last four contests, including a 59-0 beatdown at the hands of Penn State and last week’s stunner, a 40-14 blowout by the Purdue Boilermakers down their starting quarterback in Elijah Sindelar along with their best offensive player in Rondale Moore.
So, what went wrong? Well, a variety of things.
The Maryland defense, especially in recent weeks, has begun to fall apart. The secondary has struggled since they’ve entered Big Ten play, giving up 421 yards through the air to Penn State before surrendering 420 yards to Purdue this past weekend.
The loss of senior cornerback Tino Ellis, Maryland’s best cover corner and leader in pass breakups during the 2018 season, will certainly make things more difficult on that end.
Compounding those defensive concerns has been a somewhat stymied offense that looked unstoppable through the first two weeks. Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Josh Jackson, who opened the season in dominant fashion throwing for seven touchdowns in the first two games has thrown just three since, and a high ankle sprain has left his status for Indiana up in the air.
Back-up quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome is expected to fill in if Jackson can’t go, but the Maryland offense has looked one dimensional with Pigrome at the head.
There’s no denying the athletic ability of Pigrome, who rushed for over 100 yards and a score last week against Purdue, but his ability to throw the football leaves much to be desired.
Pigrome needed 39 attempts to throw for 218 yards against the Boilermakers, along with two interceptions, and when Maryland wasn’t picking up big gains on the ground, the offense seemed to stall.
Yet limiting big plays on the ground against the Terps has been easier said than done, especially with junior running back Javon Leake in the fold. Leake has carried the ball just 36 times on the season but has racked up an impressive 341 yards on the ground along with 5 touchdowns, good for a stunning 9.5 yards per carry.
If Pigrome gets the start, which seems to be the working assumption, the key for the Indiana defense will be to keep Leake under control and force Pigrome to beat them with his arm. If the Hoosiers can succeed in that respect, it’s tough to imagine Maryland scoring enough points to keep up with the Indiana offense.
Indiana freshman quarterback Michael Penix, who is one of 16 quarterbacks in the country to earn an elite grade for the season according to Pro Football Focus, should be licking his chops at the prospect of facing this depleted Maryland secondary.
With that being said, the Hoosiers offense must be careful to not get too one dimensional and rely on Stevie Scott and the running game, which had their breakout game last week against Rutgers, to open things up offensively.
There is no doubt this weekend’s match-up with Maryland kicks off a huge stretch, a stretch that could make or break Tom Allen’s career at Indiana. It’s a game the Hoosiers should win, but at Indiana, counting wins before they happen can get you into a load of trouble.