Kickoff: Minnesota at Indiana, 3:30 p.m., Saturday
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BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana defensive lineman Bobby Richardson didn't bother with sugar coating. There was no need. The Hoosiers' victory prospects Saturday against Minnesota, along with their bowl hopes, rest with stopping the run.
Specifically, can IU's defensive line control Minnesota's offensive line?
“Who's going to be tougher?” Richardson asked. “Are we going to play in their backfield, or are they going to play in our secondary?”
It's a simple question, but if you've seen the Hoosiers play, you know defensive answers are never simple. Defense has been a generation-long Achilles' heel.
If IU can stop the run and make Minnesota have to pass to win, given the Gophers are the Big Ten's worst passing team, the Hoosiers can win.
Key point No. 1: Minnesota averages just 123 passing yards a game. It's only thrown five touchdown passes all season.
Yes, the Hoosiers are aware of that.
Key point No. 2: The Gophers prefer power running. They rank fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 217 yards. Their offensive linemen try to drive their defensive counterparts into the secondary.
Nebraska sometimes had nine defenders near the line of scrimmage last week and still couldn't stop Minnesota, giving up 271 rushing yards in a 34-23 loss. IU plans a more sledgehammer defensive strategy.
“This is going to be a battle, a war,” Richardson said. “Who's going to be the toughest? Because they like to pound the ball. Run, run, run it.
“Who's going to be more physical? Who's going to hold their ground? Who's going to stay disciplined till the end of the game? Who's going to attack?”
IU has had two weeks to come up with the answers. It has stewed over the 751 yards and 63 points it gave up to Michigan. It understands the stakes.
Richardson will play a key role. So will safety Greg Heban, who leads the team with 55 tackles, and cornerback Tim Bennett, who is second with 52 tackles and leads the nation with 16 pass breakups.
The Hoosiers are 3-4. They have Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue at home. They play at Wisconsin and Ohio State. They have to win at least three of those games to become bowl eligible.
Minnesota (6-2) is already bowl eligible. It has overcome the health issues of coach Jerry Kill, who has taken a leave of absence while battling epileptic seizures.
IU figures to score early and often. It averages 42.4 points a game. Minnesota allows 23.1.
Still, coach Kevin Wilson wants more. He said quarterbacks Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld must play better in the fourth quarter and when the offense gets into the red zone. The 10 interceptions are a source of frustration.
“You think these guys throw the ball well,” Wilson said, “but in competitive situations, how good are you, really?
“They have ups and downs. I think they listen to the public perspective too much. My deal is, you're young and you're not as good as you need to be. You need to keep working hard and getting better.”
But in the end, offense takes second billing to the run battle.
“We can't let (Minnesota offensive linemen) get to the (linebackers),” Richardson said. “We have to attack all double teams. We've got to play beyond the line of scrimmage. We've got to play in the backfield.”
Beyond that, Wilson said, the Hoosiers have to force the Gophers into lots of second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
“We've got to get them off schedule,” he said.