Four Days and Counting...

HoosierNation.com continues its day-by-day preview of Saturday's match-up with Ball State in Muncie. With four days remaining before kickoff, we look at four key match-ups for this intra-state battle...

IU WRs James Hardy and James Bailey vs. BSU CB Eulas Taylor - Hardy and Bailey present a mighty big challenge for the 5-11, 164-pound Taylor, a true freshman from Georgia. He'll be appearing in only his second college game, and he'll be matched up against a pair of wideouts who have decided edges in size, strength and experience as well.

Expect to see plenty of zone coverage from the Cardinals, who don't want to get caught in too many one-on-one situations with either of IU's wideouts. While Hardy finished with a relatively quiet four-catch, 86-yard effort in the season-opening win against Western Michigan, Hoosier quarterback Blake Powers looked to hook up with the 6-7, 215-pound wideout on deep balls a handful of times, with only one going for a completion. Ball State's coaches certainly saw that on film, and will likely be focused on limiting Hardy's chances deep downfield.

It will be up to Hardy and Bailey, meanwhile, to be crisp in their route running, enabling them to find the holes in the zone and then do much of their damage after the catch. Eastern Michigan completed 18-of-28 passes for 209 yards against Ball State a week ago, and IU will have a chance to put up big numbers against the Cardinal secondary.

IU Specialists Austin Starr and Tyson Beattie vs. BSU Special Teams -On paper, Indiana has a decided advantage over the Cardinals on both sides of the ball. Indiana's defense not only limited Western Michigan to less than 300 yards of total offense last week, but it created turnovers that led to scores as well. The same goes for IU's offense, which has playmakers in the passing game that will have a decided advantage against its counterparts from Ball State.

One area that remains a concern for IU, though, is special teams. Tyson Beattie had a 12-yard punt last week that gave WMU the ball at the IU 13-yard line, while Starr missed a pair of extra points and had a kickoff go out of bounds. Those are the kind of special teams miscues that could create opportunities for Ball State to keep this game close.

It's also an important week for the specialists in the eyes of the IU coaching staff, who want more consistent play from both the kickoff and punt units. Neither player appears in danger of losing his job, but their continued improvement is critical to IU's chances to run the table in the non-conference and then ultimately into the Big Ten slate.

IU DEs Brian Faires and Kenny Kendal vs. BSU OTs Andre Ramsey and Robert Brewster -One of the biggest surprises in last week's win against Western Michigan was the play of Faires, who recorded three tackles for loss – including two of IU's three sacks – to help lead the IU defensive effort. As IU prepares for its match-up with the Cardinals, IU defensive line coach Brian George is hoping to get the same sort of productivity this weekend from the former tight end as well as his captain Kendal.

They'll be going up against the 6-5, 308-pound Ramsey and the 6-5, 320-pound Brewster, a pair of big bodies that they'll have an edge over in terms of quickness. But that duo combined to keep Eastern Michigan's defensive ends from harassing Cardinal quarterbacks Joey Lynch and Nate Davis.

Lynch doesn't have the sort of playmaking wideouts that IU does, but he's an extremely accurate thrower who will put the ball on target if he has time. Davis, meanwhile, is only a true freshman, but he's loaded with confidence after his 7-of-8, 109-yard, three-touchdown effort against EMU last weekend. If IU can keep both from getting comfortable in the pocket, they can force some mistakes from both QBs.

IU TBs Demetrius McCray and Marcus Thigpen vs. BSU LBs Wendell Brown and Bryant Haines- The Hoosiers will likely use 242-pound tailback Josiah Sears plenty in this contest to try to attack the heart of the Cardinal defense, but Thigpen and McCray will see their share of time as well. While Sears will try to run over Ball State's defenders, McCray and Thigpen in particular will try to out-run Ball State's defense, bouncing runs to the outside to try to produce a couple of big plays.

If IU's offensive line can hold its own up front, McCray and Thigpen will be looking to keep Brown and Haines from wrapping them up on the perimeter. If they can do that, they'll have a chance for some big plays, since Ball State will likely have only six players in the box in an effort to keep the IU wideouts in check.

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

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