Indiana, Rutgers play with bowl eligibility on the line
By MICHAEL MAROT
Nov. 17, 2017
Indiana and Rutgers understand the stakes of their game Saturday.
The winner needs one more win to go bowling. The loser is probably heading home for the holidays.
It's not something either coach wants to discuss, so they're letting others deal with the chatter while they focus on the more immediate challenge — getting their teams ready to play.
"We've got to keep getting better," Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. "If a bowl game is in the cards because we played our best football and it's given us a chance to win, then great. But we're more concerned about Indiana, and we have to play better."
Both teams have been better this season — even if the standings don't quite reveal it.
Rutgers (4-6, 3-4) already has matched its best Big Ten wins total and needs one more to become the third conference team since 1960 to win four league games following a winless conference season.
Ash couldn't care less about those things right now.
Indiana (4-6, 1-6), meanwhile, has dealt with a challenging schedule. It is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to play three top-five teams this season and is 0-5 against ranked programs despite being close in almost every one.
Until last week at Illinois, the Hoosiers had struggled to finish. Now, after coach Tom Allen got his first league win, the Hoosiers are two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible for the third consecutive year — something that has happened only one other time in school history.
"I want a hungry team to take the field on Saturday against Rutgers," Allen said. "I think that experiencing that success on the road, getting a Big Ten win, increases that hunger to be able to want to have that feeling again after the game is over, and play really well doing it."
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
Ash, the former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, thinks good defenses start with a strong pass rush.
For most of Ash's first two seasons at Rutgers, that's been problematic. Over the last two games, the Scarlet Knights may have found some answers. They had six sacks against Maryland and Penn State, and if they can dial up the pressure against likely Hoosiers starter Richard Lagow , it could change the game.
"When you identify like who are your true pass rush guys, we don't have many. We're more of a big, strong, physical, tough guy mentality on the defensive line," Ash said. "I think we're really stout in there."
Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. has another year of eligibility remaining and the Hoosiers would like him to come back.
And why not? After missing all but one play last season, Cobbs has rebounded with 63 catches for 716 yards and seven TD catches.
Allen already has said the two will discuss his NFL options after the season, but for now, Cobbs will be honored along with the other graduating seniors Saturday. Just don't read too much into it. Cornerback Rashard Fant also was honored last year and returned for his final season.
"He'll be going through that, just like Rashard did last year," Allen said, referring to Cobbs. "Without knowing for sure what the future holds, but we'll handle it that way."
Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant heads into the final two games of the season needing 490 yards to break the school's record for all-purpose yards.
Grant has done it all for the Scarlet Knights in his five-year career— returning kicks and punts, catching passes, even rushing. And now that he's healthy again, Grant could play a key role against the Hoosiers' improved defense, meaning the milestone could be within reach.
He needs 410 all-purpose yards to pass Ray Rice (5,260 yards) for second in school history. Terrell Willis (5,340 yards) is Rutgers' career leader.
TIPPING THE SCALES
Linebacker Tegray Scales heads into his final home game on the verge of cracking Indiana's top 10 in career tackles.
He needs eight tackles to pass Kyle Killion (323) for No. 10, and 11 to pass Justin Smith (326) for ninth.
Scales also ranks No. 3 in school history in tackles for loss (44) and is sixth in career sacks (17).