Give Blake Powers time to throw downfield- IU Coach Terry Hoeppner has a quarterback with the arm to throw the ball downfield, and an overabundance of willing and able wideouts ready to catch Blake Powers' tosses. The final piece to the Hoosiers' passing puzzle is just a matter of time.
Throughout fall camp, there's been plenty of attention on an Indiana team that is loaded at the skill positions and has dramatically improved its speed on defense. But the elephant in the room is the Hoosiers' offensive line. For the Hoosiers to be successful, this group is going to need to give Powers time to throw early in the year and then continue to gel as run blockers as the year wears on.
Notre Dame transfer Chauncey Incarnato was supposed to be a big part of the unit's success this season at tackle, but a nagging ankle injury has slowed him to the point the IU staff moved Charlie Emerson from defensive end to right tackle 10 days ago. While Emerson combines a very good frame for the position (6-5, 283) with athleticism, it remains a tall order for a player to develop into a starting Big Ten offensive tackle after two weeks of work at the position.
Left tackle Justin Frye is the anchor of the group, but even he is playing a new position this fall. No. 1 guards Jonathan Sandberg and Kyle Thomas will be getting their first taste of significant action at the collegiate level, and the second unit includes a pair of true freshmen (Rodger Saffold, Pete Saxon) and virtually no other players with any game experience.
In the group's defense, they have generally afforded Powers time to throw during 11-on-11 work this fall. Indiana will also utilize plenty of underneath throws and screen passes to keep the Broncos' pass rushers from pinning their ears back and coming after Powers. If the offensive line can keep Powers on his feet and off his backside, he should have his way with a Western Michigan pass defense that ranked 116th out of 117 Division I schools a year ago in passing yards allowed/game.
Keep the big plays to a minimum - A couple of words Hoeppner has emphasized with his defensive unit this fall are fast and furious. He wants his fleet-footed defenders flying around the field, making big hits and creating havoc for opposing offenses.
Part of that havoc is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks when they drop back to throw. With the loss of the team's top pass rusher from a year ago, Victor Adeyanju, it's a good bet that much of the Hoosiers' quarterback pressure will have to come courtesy of blitzes, whether that's linebackers such Adam McClurg or Jake Powers, or from safeties such as Will Meyers or Josh Bailey. With that strategy, though, comes the risk of giving up big plays – something Indiana must avoid Saturday.
IU co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic has worked extensively with his corners throughout fall camp about knowing the situation. While there are times for IU's corners to gamble on 50/50 balls, it's not when you've blitzed and there's no support from a safety if the wideout comes down with the throw. That's when Palcic has emphasized keeping the receiver in front and then wrapping them up after the catch.
Indiana figures to be better at eliminating the big play this season thanks to the presence of some sound tacklers in the secondary. Troy Grosfield – a second stringer free safety who has plenty of starting experience – will likely be in on IU's nickel coverage unit and he's one of the team's best open field tacklers. Redshirt freshman Austin Thomas is also very good in that area as well, and Will Meyers is a third safety that isn't likely to blow a tackle that could turn into a big score.
One big play from the Western Michigan offense can likely be overcome by the Hoosiers, but if the Broncos put together a couple of big gainers it could put them in a position to spring the upset.
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
Two Days and Counting...
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