Indiana takes on Western Kentucky at 4 p.m. Saturday at home, the Hoosiers’ third game of the 2015 season. Here are five things I’ll be following during the game:
1. RETURN OF TEGRAY SCALES
Indiana’s defense saw noticeable improvement with the return of defensive linemen Darius Latham and Ralph Green III from suspension. It will be even closer to full strength with the return of linebacker Tegray Scales, who had to serve a two-game suspension instead of one like Latham and Green. Scales played very well as a freshman last season, recording 46 tackles and three interceptions. How his return affects the defense is something to keep an eye on.
2. DEFENSE’S CONISTENCY/IMPROVEMENT
This will be the first challenging quarterback Indiana has faced so far this season in Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty. The sixth-year QB led the FBS in passing yards last year with 4,830 yards, passing touchdowns with 49 and points responsible with 24.2. It will be a good test for a secondary that hasn’t faced a quarterback of that caliber yet this season. How the secondary – and the defense as a whole – performs will measure how much progress this defense has made and whether they’ve improved or are still resorting back to old ways.
3. OFFENSE BOUNCING BACK
Against Florida International, Nate Sudfeld and the Indiana offense struggled uncharacteristically. The defense would end up saving the day despite its own share of struggles in that same game. Florida International’s defense provided many looks that the Hoosier offense had not seen before, which obviously made it challenging to develop any kind of momentum or rhythm. Sudfeld will be relied on more heavily in this game which is likely to be a high-scoring one, making how the offense responds to last week’s game important and worth watching.
4. THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD ROTATION
The depth chart still lists Rashard Fant, Chase Dutra, Jonathan Crawford and Andre Brown as starters, but that won’t be who’s on the field the majority of the defensive snaps. There’s been a steady rotation in the secondary as a result of Chase Dutra being out with an undisclosed injury. That will likely continue this Saturday as Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said Monday that Dutra was getting close. Wilson’s other comment Monday was that he wouldn’t start Dutra because he hasn’t practiced yet. If Dutra does play, the rotation will likely be much smaller than the last two weeks. If not, there could be as many as eight seeing playing time similar to week one.
5. PLAYMAKING ABILITY OF YOUNG DEFENSIVE BACKS
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Indiana’s young corners and safeties got burned early and often last week against Florida International, especially in the first half as Panthers receiver Thomas Owens had a touchdown reception of 75 yards. Owens finished with a total of 166 receiving yards and two touchdowns. However, the Hoosier defensive backs had a short memory as Jameel Cook’s interception return for a touchdown clinched the game for Indiana late in the fourth quarter. Those defensive backs, and really the defense as a whole, will need to force takeaways like that to limit the opportunities of Western Kentucky’s high-powered offense.