Can Indiana score 30-plus points against a much-improved Illini defense? - At the season's midway point, there are still plenty of question marks about Indiana's 4-2 football team.
Defensively, the Hoosiers have surrendered at least 30 points in three straight games, and they've yet to establish any sort of real tangible strength on that side of the ball. Tackling, the lack of a consistent pass rush, and big plays in the passing game have all been constants in the early going.
On offense, a season-ending injury to tailback Darius Willis and the indefinite loss of top offensive lineman James Brewer has created cause for concern as well. It didn't keep the Hoosiers from piling up big yardage against Arkansas State, but with six more difficult games remaining on the schedule it's still to be seen if the high-powered offensive attack will bog down during the next six weeks.
Despite the questions on offense, one thing that does appear obvious is that if Indiana is going to win football games, it's going to need to put up points in bunches. Anything short of 30 and the Hoosiers will be hard-pressed to beat anyone remaining on their schedule. That includes Illinois, which has a less than formidable offense that is averaging only 21.3 points/game and has the 11th-ranked passing attack in the Big Ten. Despite those struggles, the Illini run the ball well enough and Indiana has been susceptible enough against the big play to suggest the Illini won't be bottled up.
The good news about a threshold of 30 points is IU has done that five times in six games. With the exception of the Ohio State, Indiana has moved the ball successfully against everyone. The bad news, though, is every defense IU will face from here on out is better than the ones they've had success against thus far. Western Kentucky (No. 93 nationally in total defense), Akron (No. 104), Michigan (No. 105) and Arkansas State (No. 119) are all among the bottom 30 defensive units, statistically, in the country. Every team remaining on the schedule ranks in the top 53, including No. 20 Illinois.
Can Indiana's banged up offensive line hold-up? – Injuries to James Brewer and now Josh Hager have created some real issues and concerns along the offensive line. The three-game absence of Brewer leaves IU without its best offensive lineman, someone has blossomed into a potential NFL Draft pick with his play this fall. But an ankle injury has him ruled out for the game with the Illini.
A one-game experience of moving Justin Pagan from guard to right tackle was abandoned last week as IU instead opted to move Hager up into the starting line-up and keep Pagan at his more comfortable guard spot. But Hager went down early against Arkansas State, forcing the IU staff to shuffle things up more. Now, they've slid Marc Damisch from guard to right tackle, left Pagan at guard, and they've got their fingers crossed that the new-look line can hold up against much-improved front sevens moving forward.
We'll find out if they are capable of protecting Ben Chappell this weekend. If the line can give Chappell time to throw, he's shown that he can pick apart just about any secondary with his good-decision making, accurate arm and stable of talented wide receivers. It's why Indiana's passing attack is ranked fifth nationally and Chappell is 12th in the country in total offense. But when he's not given time to throw – as was the case against Ohio State – Indiana's passing attack can sputter. It will be up to the offensive line to make sure that doesn't happen.
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
ILLINOIS: Two Days and Counting
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