(Indianapolis) (AP) – Indiana coach Kevin Wilson already has a pretty good sense of what to expect Saturday night.
He and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel have matched wits and recruited against one another in two other conferences, and they subscribe to similar offensive philosophies. So expect a good, old-fashioned wide-open shootout – just like these coaches used to have in the Big 12. Except, of course, this time Wilson represents the Big Ten and Pinkel the SEC.
“It really takes me back to playing in the Big 12 and the way they like to throw the ball,” Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines said.
The SEC has had the upper hand against the Big Ten and just about every other conference in America over the last decade, and Saturday’s game marks the first head-to-head matchup between the two power conferences this season.
On paper, it looks relatively even.
Missouri (2-0) has started strong after going 5-7 last season and has a fifth-year quarterback running one of the nation’s top offenses. Indiana (2-1) is attempting to overcome years of frustration, including last season’s 4-8 mark and, like Missouri, has been scoring points by the dozens.
Nothing new there.
But Wilson also understands his team can’t afford to make mistakes against a typically disciplined Pinkel-coached team.
“They’re not going to play sloppy. They’re not going to turn it over,” Wilson said. “They have good balance on O, good defense, solid football team. You’ve got to beat a team like that. They’re not going to lose the game. You have to play well to beat teams like this.”
Here are five things to watch Saturday:
1. LIGHT `EM UP: Indiana and Missouri are both ranked among the top 10 nationally in scoring. The Hoosiers average 50.0 points per game, Missouri 48.0. Don’t expect much to change this week. While the Tigers have allowed 18.5 points, this will easily be their toughest non-conference matchup they’ve had. Indiana’s defense, meanwhile, played much better last week than the previous one. While the Hoosiers are yielding 28.7 points, that number has been skewed because two turnovers and a blocked punt were returned for touchdowns.
2. QUARTERBACK FUN: Aside from seeing another potential basketball score, again, this game may be one of the most overlooked head-to-head quarterback matchups in the nation. Missouri’s James Franklin, once recruited by Wilson, leads a balanced attack that averages 274 yards passing per game and 265 rushing. Franklin also has four TD passes and is ranked No. 31 nationally in passer efficiency (155.1). Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld is off to a surprisingly good start. Despite making only one start, he’s thrown for 917 yards, 10 touchdowns and is No. 7 in passer efficiency (195.3).
3. PREP WORK: Missouri appears to have one distinct advantage – prep time. Not only are the Tigers already familiar with Wilson’s style from their days in the Big 12 together, they also got the benefit of having an early bye week. It gave Missouri two weeks to prepare for what is likely to be their biggest challenge until mid-October. It will be interesting to see how much the extra time helps. But the Hoosiers may have benefited, too. By playing last week, the Hoosiers had an opportunity to move beyond the Navy debacle with a big win over Bowling Green.
4. COACHES CORNER: Pinkel has always won games. He left Toledo as the career wins leader and a win Saturday would move him into a second-place tie with Dan Devine (93) on Missouri’s career victories list. Ten more wins would send Pinkel past Don Faurot (101) for the school record. Wilson, meanwhile, is trying to show Hoosiers fans he can meet this season’s expectations. With five straight home games to open the season, most figured the Hoosiers needed to be 3-1 in non-conference play to have a shot at a bowl game. A win Saturday would do just that.
5. LATE NIGHT WITH THE LETTERMEN: Two of Indiana’s three games have lasted well over 3 1/2 hours. The only one that didn’t go long was the Navy game, which kept the clock moving with a 444-yard rushing game. Missouri is no Navy. The Hoosiers and Tigers will both try to keep pressure on the defense by moving quickly from one play to the next. And with an 8 p.m. kickoff, these teams could keep fans burning the midnight oil, literally, before anyone leaves Memorial Stadium.