The Hoosiers will attempt to start the season 2-0 for the second consecutive year when the Nicholls State Colonels head to Bloomington on Saturday for a 4 p.m. kickoff.
The Hoosiers will face an unfamiliar foe in Nicholls State, a Division I-AA school in Thibodaux, La., which is about 60 miles west of New Orleans. The game was very much in doubt after the state of Louisiana was hammered by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29. While the campus of NSU sustained no major damage after the hurricane, transportation to Bloomington and equipment for the game was in question. By way of example, Nicholls State's uniforms had been sent to Gulfport, Miss., to have some work done, but Gulfport was also devastated by the hurricane making even uniforms a hurdle to overcome.
Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner said he and the team planned on making sure the Colonel players, coaches and families will have a chance to take their minds off the troubles they face at home while they are in Bloomington.
"We're going to try to do whatever we can to help them," said Hoeppner. "They need the game. I know this, I talked to the captains about it, and we're going to as a team do something for them. IU football is going to get together and do something significant."
The game will be the home opener for Indiana, which is coming off a 20-13 win over Central Michigan. It will be the first game of the season for the Colonels after they were forced to cancel the opener against Utah State.
Amazingly, this is the second time in as many years the Colonels have had to cancel a contest due to a hurricane. Last season, Nicholls canceled its game against Texas A&M-Kingsville due to the threat of Hurricane Ivan.
Getting off on the right foot
The Hoosiers hope to get off to a better start than they did against Central Michigan. Indiana was unable to find the end zone until 3:25 remained in the second quarter and was 0-6 on third down conversions in the first half. Indiana had no first downs in the first quarter and negative rushing yardage.
"We had some first game jitters that we had to work out," said sophomore quarterback Blake Powers. "We just weren't making plays. I felt like they were more ready to play than we were in the first quarter and the first part of the second half."
Indiana will go against a Colonel defense with seven returning starters from a team that finished third in the Southland Conference in scoring defense last season. The Colonels, which went 5-5 a year ago and 2-3 in conference play, led the league in turnover ratio with a plus-nine mark and had the second-best overall defense.
Indiana will hope for a stronger rushing attack against this stingy defense after rushing for just 109 yards against CMU. Starting tailback Chris Taylor gained just 30 yards on 17 carries in the opener. Backup tailback Yamar Washington was solid off the bench, rushing for 108 yards on 20 carries.
The leader of the Nicholls defense is junior linebacker Cory Vavala. As a sophomore last season he led the team with 69 tackles and also had one interception and one fumble recovery. All-SLC seniors Henry Johnson and Tommy Lee Brown will anchor a secondary that returns three of its four starters from last season and has plenty of depth. Brown led the SLC in interceptions with five and had 22 tackles, forced two fumbles and caused a safety. Johnson, meanwhile, had four interceptions, 36 tackles and one sack.
That secondary will have its hands full with the IU passing attack. Blake Powers will attempt to dissect this upper-classman led secondary and build on his effort in week one, when he completed 17-of-35 for 276 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He will need a healthy James Hardy, who was still aggravated by his sore Achilles during the week. Hardy paced the Hoosiers with five catches for 107 yards and one score in his first game in cream and crimson.
Defense name of the game
The Indiana Hoosiers defense, meanwhile, will try to eliminate some of the big plays it surrendered a week ago. Of Central Michigan's 388 yards, 333 came on just 14 plays, including an 80-yard touchdown run and a 66-yard pass completion. The Indiana defense limited CMU to just 50 yards on its other 54 plays.
"We take all the positives from last week and we work on the negatives," said senior linebacker John Pannozzo. "They showed us a lot of stuff we reacted well to and then there were times when we didn't know how to react. We have to take everything, clean up the mistakes and learn from the experience."
Indiana will take on a triple-option formation led by senior quarterback Yale Vannoy, sophomore fullback Broderick Cole and sophomore running back Cal Jones. Nicholls gained an SLC-best 2,493 yards on the ground last season, good for 249.3 per game.
Cole rushed for 512 yards on 121 carries and scored four touchdowns in 2004 and Jones gain 236 yards and had one touchdown.
Vannoy attempted an average of just under ten passes a game in 2004, going 39-of-92 for 700 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions, but he did rush for 460 rushing yards and scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
Indiana's defense will be led by Pannozzo, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Tuesday after his six tackle, three-tackle for loss effort against CMU.
Expect to see a different Hoosier defense than the one that started six defensive backs against Central Michigan. Hoeppner will likely load up the box to stop the rushing attack of Nicholls with the option being the primary threat.
News and Notes
The home opener will mark the debut of "The Walk." Indiana players will be dropped off in the tailgating fields across from Memorial Stadium two hours before game time and march onto the field, leading fans into the stadium.
"I know it will bring fans into the seats," said Hoeppner. "I hope it will have the same effect that it did at Miami. It became a tradition and it became very meaningful to the team and the fans. The players drew excitement from symbolically marching into their stadium. It was an opportunity for the parents, for the students and for our fans to see the players up close two hours before the kickoff.
"A lot of places do it and hopefully the walk will become a great Hoosier tradition."
Hoosiers Welcome Colonels For Home Opener
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