1. DEFENSIVE PLAYERS RETURNING FROM SUSPENSION
About 15 minutes before last Saturday’s kickoff, Indiana announced nine players were suspended. Defensive tackle Darius Latham, defensive end Ralph Green III and linebacker Tegray Scales were among the those nine. Latham and Green return for Saturday’s game, while Scales will serve the remainder of his suspension two-game suspension. Indiana’s coaches downplayed any significance of the defense getting players back from suspension, but it’s impossible to ignore how much the Hoosiers’ run defense will improve with the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Latham back plugging up the middle. The performance of the defense with players back from suspension – and whether it makes any difference – is something to keep an eye on Saturday night.
2. THE FRONT SEVEN
Just how bad was Indiana’s defense last Saturday? Southern Illinois quarterback Mark Iannotti’s 517 yards of total offense were the most ever by any player in any division in Week 1, including FBS. His success, or the Hoosiers’ lack thereof, can be attributed to the lack of pressure from the front seven. The Hoosiers tallied just one sack and had zero quarterback hurries. The absent pressure allowed the Salukis to open up a balanced offensive attack that accumulated 659 yards of total offense by the end of the game – three yards shy of tying the Memorial Stadium opponent record set by Michigan State last season. Having Latham back should help with stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. This was something worth watching last week, and should be again this week.
Howard and Redding both played a big role in the success of Indiana’s offense last Saturday, combining for 213 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Howard got the majority of the carries and is still listed as the team’s starter, but Redding complimented him nicely as a change-of-pace back. Combined, the two running backs totaled 36 carries with Howard getting 20 and Redding 16. Will the workload be split as closely this Saturday as it was last Saturday? Running backs coach Deland McCullough spoke highly of the entire running back room throughout fall camp, so there’s a possibility that they could lighten the workload and give other backs like Ricky Brookins carries. But the main focus will be on how many carries Howard and Redding each get Saturday night.
4. THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD ROTATION
The depth chart lists Rashard Fant, Chase Dutra, Tony Fields and Noel Padmore as starters, but that won’t be who’s on the field the majority of the defensive snaps. If last Saturday was any indication, there will be a heavy rotation of defensive backs in and out of the secondary against Florida International this Saturday. Indiana played eight defensive backs throughout the course of its season-opener against Southern Illinois, including three freshman: Jameel Cook, Andre Brown and Jonathan Crawford. The heavy rotation was due in large part to the absence of Dutra, who didn’t play because of an undisclosed injury (Wilson wouldn’t elaborate on it further this week other than calling it an “injury”). If Dutra still isn’t healthy enough to play, the constant rotation will continue.
5. BALANCE OF THE OFFENSE
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw for 349 yards last Saturday but didn’t get the chance to gain most of the passing yards until the second half. In the first half, the Hoosiers ran 19 running plays compared to 10 passing plays. Sudfeld and the coaching staff may have been nervous to air it out with such a young receiving corp that could arguably still be working on developing chemistry with the quarterback. Now that they’ve had the chance do that with one game, the offense may end up being more balanced against FIU. Traditionally, though, Indiana has been run-heavy under head coach Kevin Wilson. I’ll be watching to see if the coaching staff plays it cautious again or if they’re confident enough to pass more.