TLB Bowl Preview: Foster Farms Bowl

Feature image courtesy of Sarah Sopher.

No.19 Utah Utes (8-4) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (6-6)

Where: Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California

When: Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 8:30pm EST on FOX

No. 19 Utah Utes

How they got here:

The Utes began the season by rattling off four-straight wins, including a 31-27 victory over No. 9 USC. After a 28-23 loss to California, Utah was able to regroup and win three-consecutive games over Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA. However, a tough final four weeks of the season kept the Utes out of the playoff discussion. A surprising last-second defeat to a struggling Oregon team, along with two close losses to No. 4 Washington and No. 10 Colorado made Utah losers in three of its last four games. Much of Utah’s success can be attributed to a strong defense, which only gave up 24 points per game and recorded 17 interceptions. The offense, which averaged 30 points a game, is led by running back Joe Williams and quarterback Troy Williams. The Utes ended the regular season with an 8-4 record, placing them at No. 19 in the latest rankings.

Why they can win:

During the season, Indiana threw 17 interceptions, lost 9 fumbles and finished with a minus-7 turnover margin. Utah’s defense is tied for 19th in the nation with a plus-7 turnover margin and tied for 10th with 17 interceptions. If this trend continues in the bowl game, the Utes could put their offense in some advantageous situations. Utah is also ranked sixth in the nation with 40 sacks. A fearsome pass rush could cause problems for Richard Lagow, the first-year starter for the Hoosiers. Utah has a clear advantage on the defensive side and it could be the game’s determining factor.

As for the offense, the Utes will rely heavily on their ground game led by senior running back Joe Williams, who averaged close to 150 rushing yards a game. The Hoosiers run defense is decent, allowing only 3.6 yards per carry. However, they have given up 153 yards per game on the ground and 18 touchdowns to opposing runners. Behind a strong offensive line, Williams could put up big numbers against Indiana’s defense. A successful running game could also help quarterback Troy Williams, who has thrown for 15 touchdowns and ran for another five. The junior does not have eye-popping numbers like Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson, but he can dictate the offense and limit turnovers. Excluding a three-interception game against BYU, Williams has been safe with the ball, only throwing four the rest of the season. He also has the ability to extend plays and scramble outside the pocket as he rushed for nearly 400 yards in 2016. Utah’s quarterback has the weapons and the protection to have a solid and efficient day through the air, keeping the Hoosier defense from stacking the box against the run.

Additionally, the Utes’ experience in the postseason should not be overlooked. Under head coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah is 8-1 in bowl games and has won three straight. Whittingham’s teams have been here before, so the pressure and hype surrounding the game should not be a problem for the Utes.

Player to watch: DE Hunter Dimick

Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow may be having nightmares about having to line up across from Dimick. The senior defensive end ranks third in the nation in sacks with 14 and sixth in tackles for loss with 20. Dimick has the ability to get into the backfield and make it a long day for the Hoosiers.

Indiana Hoosiers

How they got here:

The Hoosiers started the season strong winning three of their first four games, including an overtime win against Michigan State, their first victory over the Spartans since 2006. The strength of the Big Ten proved to be trouble for Indiana, though. Losses to No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Michigan and Nebraska almost left the Hoosiers out of bowl contention. However, wins over Rutgers, Maryland and rival Purdue were enough to give them their second-straight 6-6 season and bowl appearance.

The Hoosiers offense, which averaged 25 points per game, is managed by first-year starter Richard Lagow. The redshirt junior had the tall task of replacing former quarterback Nate Sudfield, who carried the Indiana offense during his four years on campus. Lagow threw for 3,174 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he also threw 16 interceptions. Indiana uses a vertical passing game, as they have three receivers with 45 or more receptions. This is complemented by a decent running attack headed by thousand-yard rusher Devine Redding, who continues the trend of running back success at IU. The defense, which allowed 37 points per game in 2015, only gave up 27 per game in 2016, making them one of the most improved defenses in the Big Ten. A strong secondary limited their opponents to an average of 220 passing yard per contest.

Indiana’s biggest headline came at the very end of the season. Amid questions about his treatment of players, head coach Kevin Wilson was relieved of his duty shortly after the final game of the regular season. Indiana backup quarterback Zander Diamont announced his retirement from football due to concussion problems he encountered during his time as a Hoosier, but he denied that Wilson had anything to do with that. Wilson failed to lead Indiana to an above .500 record during his time there. Defensive coordinator Tom Allen will take his spot as the new head coach for the Hoosiers.

Why they can win:

The Hoosiers passing game will have to show up to win. Devine Redding and the rest of the Indiana runners may have a tough day going against the Utes’ dominant defensive line, meaning the offense could rely heavily on Lagow and his arm. Utah’s secondary is the weak spot of the defense, allowing on average 250 yards through the air and 21 passing touchdowns on the year. If Lagow can connect with his trio of receivers Nick Westbrook, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige, the Hoosiers will have a chance to put up points.

Defensively, Indiana will need to find a way to stop Utah’s rushing attack. The Hoosiers have been good against the pass, and Utah quarterback Troy Williams can not single-handedly beat them with his arm, meaning Tegray Scales and the rest of the Indiana defense could stack the box and dare the Utes to beat them through the air.

It will be interesting to see how Tom Allen coaches in his first game as the man in charge for the Hoosiers. The former defensive coordinator is an Indiana native and has been around all season, so Indiana should be prepared to go pull off the upset.

Player to watch: WR Mitchell Paige
Paige only stands at 5-foot-7 and 180-pounds, but his play could help the Hoosiers come out on top. He can line up in the slot or outside, making him capable of hauling in short and deep passes. The receiver leads the team with 54 catches and also has three touchdowns on the season. The numbers are not too impressive, but if the Utah secondary decides to focus on big-play receiver Nick Westbrook, then Paige could have a big day from the slot. Lagow could be asked to throw the ball a lot in this game, so his safety blanket, Paige, could be catching passes all over the field.