IU OTs Charlie Emerson and Justin Frye vs. WMU DEs Anthony Belmonte and Matt Ludeman- With only two weeks of experience at offensive tackle, Charlie Emerson will be put to the test Saturday as he's expected to start the Hoosiers' season opener against Western Michigan. The converted defensive end will be matched up opposite either Belmonte or Ludeman, a couple of defensive ends who combined for 78 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks a year ago.
The test for IU's offensive tackles, though, isn't only keeping Blake Powers on his feet. They'll also have to do a good job sealing their man on the edge to allow IU tailbacks Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray to get outside and make big plays in the running game. While last year's tailbacks Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington were capable between the tackles runners, this year's crop of tailbacks are at their best when they can get outside and into space. That's especially true for Thigpen, a converted wide receiver who has blazing speed.
Much of the attention on this year's IU football team revolves around quarterback Blake Powers and a talented group of wide receivers, but Indiana needs to produce some offensive balance as well. That means getting the ball to Thigpen and McCray and giving them the opportunity to make big plays – something both are more than capable of doing.
WMU OLB Ameer Ismail vs. IU Pass Protection-The 6-2, 225-pound Ismail is the marquee name on the Bronco defense, a weakside linebacker who totaled 93 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks a season ago. Keeping him out of the Hoosier backfield will be one of the Hoosiers' biggest challenges Saturday.
Indiana enters the game with a relatively inexperienced offensive line and a couple of running backs who are getting their first taste of picking up blitzers in a college game. With that in mind, WMU will likely move Ismail around quite a bit and bring him from a variety of spots on the field in an effort to test IU's pass protection. At times it will fall to a tight end such as Matt O'Neal or Nick Sexton to keep Ismail at bay, but often times IU will be counting on a tailback – Marcus Thigpen or Demetrius McCray – to keep Blake Powers off his back.
If Indiana struggles in its efforts to contain Ismail's pass rush early, don't be surprised to see more and more of Josiah Sears as this game wears on. The 6-0, 242-pound Sears is easily IU's biggest tailback, and he's also clearly their best right now at picking up pass rushers. He doesn't present the same sort of big-play possibilities that Thigpen or McCray does, but his ability to pass protect is equally as important.
IU DE Kenny Kendal vs. WMU LT Rob Johnson-There's little question the IU defense will be faster than it was a year ago. A scheme change has added a third safety to the field, giving IU the sort of speed IU Coach Terry Hoeppner has been looking for.
That addressed one need, but another pressing concern is whether or not IU will be able to generate a pass rush with its front four. The Hoosiers lost their two best pass rushing threats from a year ago – Victor Adeyanju and Ben Ishola – and last year's unit had to rely a great deal on the blitz to generate a consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
With the loss of Adeyanju and Ishola, a lot falls on the shoulders of Kendal to emerge as a bona fide pass rushing threat. There are some of good possibilities at the position, but current No. 1 left end Brian Faires is a converted tight end, while Jammie Kirlew, Neal Jones and Keith Burrus are all redshirt freshmen. As a fifth-year senior, the time has come for Kendal to emerge as an anchor for the IU defense. He'll have a decided advantage over the 330-pound Johnson in terms of speed, but if he gets locked up by the sophomore WMU left tackle he'll be a non-factor.
WMU DT Nick Varcadipane vs. IU O-Line-Varcadipane earned second-team All-MAC honors a year ago as a redshirt freshman, totaling 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman. The 6-2, 272-pounder will have the opportunity to match up with some inexperienced IU offensive guards who will be getting their first taste of college football action.
While things could still change before Saturday's opener, indications are the Hoosiers will use junior Jonanthan Sandberg and Cody Faulkner at right guard and Kyle Thomas and Pete Saxon at left guard. Sandberg is the only player among that group that has any college game experience, and he'll be making his first collegiate start Saturday. Varcadipane will pose a significant test for IU's young guards, who will certainly lean on experienced center Chris Mangiero as well in an effort to keep Varcadipane out of the IU backfield.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Four Days and Counting...
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