Emotional Toll of a Tough Week - When he informed the IU team of his need to take a leave of absence, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner insisted – emphatically – that they not use his absence as an excuse or allow it to become a distraction to the task of winning football games.
That's obviously easier said than done. Hoeppner is the face of the program, and his departure leaves some tremendously big shoes to fill in the short term. The players appeared relieved to hear that doctors believe Hoeppner can return to work in less than a month, but re-grouping in time for Saturday's contest against Southern Illinois will be a challenge.
Interim head coach Bill Lynch has plenty of head coaching experience, which is a huge plus. But a great deal will also fall to captains Justin Frye, Will Meyers, Lance Bennett and Kenny Kendal to make sure the players follow through on Hoeppner's words and remain focused. There's likely nothing the players can do that would please Hoeppner more than a resounding win Saturday.
The loss of James Hardy, meanwhile, pales in comparison to Hoeppner, but that's likely been a bigger issue in the locker room than it's been in the public. His suspension is another obstacle that the team must set aside as it gears up for a very good I-AA foe.
Will IU's run defense hold up for a third straight week - One of the biggest turnarounds for this year's team has been its ability to stop the run. The Hoosiers are giving up only 56.5 yards/game and barely more than two yards per carry. That compares quite favorably to a year ago, when IU gave up 214.5 yards/game and 5.0 yards/carry.
That trend will need to continue this weekend against an SIU team that will run, run and run some more. In the team's season-opening 49-0 win over Lock Haven, SIU ran for 357 yards on 41 carries, an average of 8.7 yards/run. A year ago, nearly 60 percent of SIU's offensive players were runs (514 vs. 350 passes), and that trend continued in week one when SIU ran the ball 41 times and only threw it on 22 occasions.
SIU might be a I-AA team, but tailback Arkee Whitlock will likely be the best tailback IU has faced to date as well. Whitlock has rushed for nearly 2,500 yards in his SIU career and is a preseason All-American after running for 1,454 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. He's complemented by quarterback Nick Hill, who is as dangerous with his ability to run (11 carries, 107 yards, 2 TDs in week one) as his ability to throw (10-of-19, 85 yards, 0 TDs in week one).
SIU doesn't run the same wishbone attack that Nicholls State did a year ago, but the 408-yard rushing effort by Nicholls State showed a I-AA team is more than capable of moving the ball on the ground against a Big Ten defense. SIU's offensive line averages 6-3 ½ and 303 pounds, so they won't be pushed around by IU's defensive front.
Consistent Play from IU's Special Teams- Erratic would be a kind way to describe IU's special teams efforts the first two weeks. The return game has produced a pair of touchdowns, but the Hoosier kickers have been suspect at best.
Austin Starr had a huge 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that gave IU the lead for good in the win at Ball State, but he's still struggled in the early going. He's already missed three kicks from 25 yards and in this season – a pair of extra points against Western Michigan that were blocked and a 25-yard field goal attempt in the first half against Ball State. Those kind of mistakes haven't come back to haunt IU yet, but IU is bound to play a couple more games this season where one kick could be the difference.
Surprisingly, IU punter Tyson Beattie has also struggled badly. Beattie is averaging only 36.8 yards/punt, and he's had a pair of his worst kicks at the most critical of times. With IU pinned at its one-yard line against Western Michigan he shanked a 12-yard punt that gave WMU the ball at the IU 13, leading to a field goal. Then, with 5 ½ minutes remaining at Ball State, his 30-yard punt gave the Cardinals the ball near midfield in a game they trailed by only one, 24-23.
No changes appear on the horizon with either of IU's kickers – in fact, the IU coaches are hopeful Starr's game-winning kick will give him the sort of confidence boost that will get him on track – but there's no doubt that both must start performing much better.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Three Days and Counting...
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