December 01, 2015

Program building in college football is a series of steps, and it's no different for Duke and Indiana.

Though each is at a different point in the process, both could use a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Saturday as a building block to get to the next step.

For Duke (7-5), a victory would erase some of the sting of a fade after starting the season 6-1 and 3-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

The Blue Devils snapped a four-game losing streak in their regular-season finale by beating Wake Forest 27-21 on Nov. 28, finally getting their defense righted after allowing an average of 42.4 points in the previous five games.

It's the first time in school history Duke will have played in four consecutive bowl games, and the program is out to end a five-bowl losing streak since defeating Arkansas in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

"Playing in our fourth consecutive bowl game means a great deal to our past, present and future Blue Devils," said coach David Cutcliffe, who will finish with his third straight winning season. "The senior class is obviously a special one, and I could not be happier for a group of young men that has accomplished what no other class has done..."

"We are thrilled to keep building our program while playing in front of so many Duke University alums and supporters in New York."

Those supporters, however, won't see the anchor of Duke's defense. ACC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team AP All-American Jeremy Cash will miss this game after undergoing wrist surgery Wednesday. He had a team-high 101 tackles, including 18 for losses that helped the Blue Devils limit opponents to 372.0 yards per game.

Redshirt junior Corbin McCarthy likely will fill Cash's starting spot in the secondary.

The Pinstripe Bowl will also mark the farewell for offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery after the Blue Devils alum was named East Carolina's head coach Dec. 13.

Montgomery's offense has averaged 30.5 points and wrung out the maximum production from Thomas Sirk, who is one of five quarterbacks among Power 5 conferences to lead his team in passing yards (2,462) and rushing yards (648) this season.

''When Coach (Kurt) Roper (took the Florida job), we found that out and came back to practice, and it was business as usual,'' center Matt Skura said. ''That's kind of the same thing it's been here. (Montgomery) hasn't mentally moved on. He's probably coaching us harder right now than he ever has, and we're taking it as business as usual. Everyone's locked in. `Coach Mo' wants to win this game just as bad as all of us do, and we've been seeing that in practice.''

Indiana (6-6) has the personnel to match Duke point for point. The Hoosiers reached their first bowl since 2007 in impressive fashion, winning at Maryland and Purdue to become eligible and claiming the Old Oaken Bucket in their finale by racking up season highs in yards (659) and points in a 54-36 win over the Boilermakers on Nov. 28.

The Hoosiers - who lost to ranked Big Ten foes Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan by a combined 22 points - led the conference in total offense at 490.8 yards per game, which was good for 16th among FBS teams. They also were tied for 22nd in scoring average with at 36.2 points and tied for fifth with only 11 turnovers.

Nate Sudfeld had six 300-yard passing games and led Indiana's late-season surge, completing 41 of 64 passes for 755 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception in the wins over Maryland and Purdue.

"I'm very proud. Ultimately, we wanted to get to the postseason," said Sudfeld, who has thrown for 3,184 yards and 24 touchdowns with only five picks. "We were aware that if we didn't take care of business at the end of the season here, and really throughout the season, that we would never have the opportunity (as seniors).

"Everybody should be able to experience a bowl game."

Indiana also averages 14.24 yards per completion, good for 12th in the FBS.

Sudfeld could get a huge boost if running back Jordan Howard is healthy enough to play. The first-team all-Big Ten selection had 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing only eight full games and part of a ninth due to ankle and knee injuries.

As good as Indiana's offense is, though, its defense is at the opposite end of the spectrum. That means Sirk could hit on many home-run plays in "The House That Ruth Built." The Hoosiers allowed a Big Ten-worst 507.3 yards per game, third-worst among Power 5 schools ahead of only Texas Tech and Kansas.

They're also third-worst among Power 5 programs in scoring defense at 37.1 points allowed per game and last among the 127 FBS teams in pass defense (326.3 ypg).

This game could come down to which defense can get off the field on third down, and Duke has an advantage on both sides. The Blue Devils are 30th offensively, moving the chains 43.9 percent of the time, and the Hoosiers have allowed opponents to convert on 42.9 percent (94th) of those plays.

Indiana is playing just its second bowl game since 1993 and is 3-6 all-time. The Hoosiers' last postseason victory was a 24-0 shutout of Baylor in the 1991 Copper Bowl.

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