It’s just the first two games, but wide receiver Nick Westbrook has stepped up as Indiana’s big play maker. With an offense still working the kinks out under a new quarterback and learning to play without talented receiver Simmie Cobbs, he’s a big reason the Hoosiers sit 2-0.
In today’s 30-20 home opening win over Ball State, the Westbrook caught touchdown passes of 43 and 79 yards to help the Hoosiers build a 27-0 lead less than a minute into the third quarter.
It wasn’t a great finish from there but the necessary damage had been done to end the MAC program’s three-game winning streak against their bigger in-state rival.
Westbrook finished with three catches for 133 yards, a gaudy 44.3 yards per catch. It was the sophomore’s first career 100-yard plus game.
“He's just maturing,” head coach Kevin Wilson said. “He was more physical today. Last week he had better maybe numbers as far as catches but he wasn't as physical. Today he physically played a lot more competitive and played harder, and that was good to see.”
The first 43-yard touchdown appeared to be a pass that would just be slightly long but Westbrook stretched at the goal line to get the diving catch.
“When Rich threw it originally I was like, well this might be overthrown,” Westbrook said. “I was expecting it over my left shoulder and at the last second the wind took it inside and I had to go dive and go get it and I managed to come down with the catch."
The 79-yard touchdown from Richard Lagow to Westbrook was the longest scoring pass since a Stephen Houston reception went for that distance against Penn State on November 17, 2012.
The score came via a bubble screen, a play that worked multiple times for Indiana in the game.
“The (line)backer was tucked inside, (tight end) Danny (Friend) was out there blocking, it was easy, I just spat it out there to Nick real quick and he took it the rest of the way,” Lagow said.
“Once I saw the look that we had and saw Danny out in front of me, I had a really good feeling about that play,” Westbrook said.
The week before in a win over Florida International, Westbrook led the receiver group with six receptions for a team high 70 yards.
All this while Richard Lagow adjusts to being the man at quarterback for the Hoosiers.
“He makes amazing plays,” Lagow said. “He’s big, he’s fast, gets open, he’s smart. He and I have a very good relationship. I trust him.”
The development of Westbrook takes on more importance given what could be a season ending injury to veteran receiver Simmie Cobbs. In just Indiana’s first play from scrimmage. Cobb went down in visible pain on the right sideline.
“I think when the guy went to make the tackle, it looked like I saw on video, on TV, looked like the guy rolled up the back of his ankle, and I think he might have an ankle that might require a surgery,” Wilson said.
Besides 6-foot-3, 215-pound Westbrook, Wilson thinks former quarterback Donavan Hale has the size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and talent to make up for the loss of the 6-foot-4, 224-pound junior.
“I think (Westbrook is) really good, and I think Donavan Hale is really good,” Wilson said. “I think both those guys are as good as Simmie, just raw talent. And they've just got to mature into being the players that those guys are, so it's good to see him grow up a little bit.”
Watch the postgame interview with Nick Westbrook: