How will IU's youngsters hold up against WMU's three wide receiver sets- The Hoosiers won't have to deal with last year's leading receiver, Greg Jennings, who caught an NCAA-best 98 passes and scored 14 touchdowns. But the Hoosiers will still have their hands full with the Bronco passing attack.
Senior Joe Chappelle (33 catches, 354 yards, 2 TDs in '05) is the leading returning receiver, and he'll be joined by sophomore Ben-Bleck Owens and redshirt freshman Chris Maragos in the starting lineup. They'll be working with fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Cubit (65-of-108, 674 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs in '05), the team's starting quarterback a year ago before he went down with a broken leg in week four.
Expect the Broncos to put a couple of young Hoosiers to the test – redshirt freshman "Buck" linebacker Josh Bailey and sophomore cornerback Chris Phillips. Bailey has climbed to No. 1 on the depth chart at "Buck", with Will Meyers moving back to free safety. A cornerback a year ago, Bailey will likely spend most of his time dropping back into pass coverage against the Broncos. Phillips, meanwhile, supplanted Leslie Majors as the No. 1 corner opposite Tracy Porter. Phillips has been a playmaker throughout fall camp while going up against IU's talented wide receiving corps, but this will be his first collegiate start Saturday.
Time will also tell how much man coverage Phillips, Bailey, and the rest of IU's secondary has to play Saturday. That will depend in large part on what sort of pass rush the Hoosiers' front four can generate against the Broncos.
Will the Hoosiers be any better on special teams than they were a year ago - Woeful might be the best way to describe the Hoosiers' kicking game a year ago. They converted only 3-of-6 field goals and didn't attempt a field goal from 40 yards or more all season. In the return game, IU allowed opponents to average 22.1 yards on kickoff returns, 13.4 yards on punt returns, and it surrendered three returns for touchdowns during the 11-game 2005 slate.
Hoeppner has made a change in the kicking game, turning to Austin Starr to handle the team's field goals. Starr battled with Kevin Trulock and Nick Ford throughout the fall, eventually winning the battle late in camp. Starr didn't erase all concerns with the kicking game during the fall, though, as there were still plenty of misses from all of IU's placekickers. The first time an IU drive stalls inside the Broncos' 30, it will be an interesting call for Hoeppner whether he wants to give Starr a shot at a long field goal, or go back to what he did a year ago – go for first downs when faced with anything other than a chip shot field goal.
What's equally important as Starr's debut is a better effort from IU's coverage teams. Indiana has plenty of regulars on its coverage teams – including the likes of projected starters Adam McClurg, Austin Thomas and Tracy Porter – as it tries to eliminate the big play from its foes' return game.
A Chip on WMU's Shoulder-Mid-America Conference teams are common foes for Big Ten teams in the non-conference schedule, and the Broncos know they'll have an opportunity to grab some national attention with a win over the Hoosiers.
This isn't a team the Hoosiers should take lightly. Despite some big losses at the skill positions on offense, WMU returns a veterans quarterback and is coming off the biggest turnaround in MAC history a year ago, going from an 0-8 league mark in 2004 to a 5-3 record last season. While departed players such as wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back Trovon Riley were big parts of last season's success, there are still plenty of pieces remaining to suggest this could wind up being a tight game.
Helping the Hoosiers will be the fact Terry Hoeppner is well versed in what sort of energy a MAC foe will bring to the field Saturday, along with what happened in last year's season opener at Central Michigan. While the Hoosiers did prevail 20-13 in last year's opener, they struggled badly in the early going and were on the ropes to the Chippewas before a couple of big James Hardy catches helped secure Hoeppner's first win as IU's head coach.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Match-ups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Three Days and Counting...
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