Three Days and Counting...

HoosierNation.com continues its day-by-day preview of Saturday's football matchup between Indiana (2-1) and UConn (1-1). Today, we look at three big concerns for the Hoosiers, ranging from UConn return man Larry Taylor to the Hoosiers' confidence level...

Confidence Level - Last week couldn't have been much tougher for the IU football program. First they lost coach Terry Hoeppner for an undetermined amount of time following a second brain surgery. That was followed by the suspension of the team's top playmaker, James Hardy, for two weeks for "personal reasons." Then, the week came to an unceremonious end with the 35-28 loss to I-AA Southern Illinois at home Saturday.

It's yet to be determined what sort of impact Saturday's loss will have on the team as it prepares for a contest against the best team on its non-conference schedule. Logically, though, the team's confidence has to be shaken. Indiana jumped to a 14-0 lead early against SIU, but then witnessed the Salukis slowly wear down the Hoosier defense with its ground game. Southern Illinois eventually ground out 244 yards, a staggering total and result for a defense that had been very good against the run in the season's first two weeks.

If there was ever a game that Indiana needed to get off to a good start, this is it. The players and staff have turned the page from Saturday's result in position meetings and on the practice field, but it's going to take something good happening on the playing field early for this team to lift its confidence level back to a pre-Southern Illinois level.

Taylor Presents A Special Teams Headache- One of the smallest men on the field Saturday will be one of Indiana's biggest concerns. Five-foot-six, 165-pound Larry Taylor might be small in stature, but he presents a big problem for Indiana.

First of all, he's a playmaker on special teams. He currently ranks second on the nation in punt returns (27.3) and will also be back on kickoff returns as well with Donald Brown II. As a freshman in 2004 he was among the national leaders in both categories and returned a kickoff and punt for a touchdown. A year ago he missed half of the season with a knee injury, but averaged 12.3 yards/punt return and 34.2 yards per kickoff return before going down in mid-October.

Taylor is back healthy, and is also now a contributor at receiver as well. He's second on the team with six receptions for 86 yards, including one touchdown.

In last week's contest against Wake Forest, the Deacons consistently kicked away from Taylor on kickoffs, instead opting to take their chances with Brown. Don't be surprised to see Indiana do that as well, or possibly even opt to go with its pooch kickoff in an effort to keep the Huskies from breaking free for a big return. Whatever strategy Indiana employs, the staff knows it can ill-afford to allow Taylor to become a big part of the game's storyline.

Consistency on the Ground - A couple of weeks ago, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said others made a bigger deal about his team's struggles running the ball than he did. He pointed out that in the staff's mind, they often use plays such as the bubble screen and other quick hitters to the tailbacks that serve the same function.

While that might be true, the state of the ground game is a concern. That was never more evident than in last week's loss to SIU. With the game tied in the fourth quarter, IU faced a 3rd-and-1 near midfield, and a Kellen Lewis run up the middle produced nothing. Then, on 4th-and-1, IU opted to go with a throw to Marcus Thigpen out of the backfield, which went incomplete and turned the ball over to SIU on downs.

It's not so much the play call that was the issue – Thigpen was open if Lewis' throw had been on target - but rather the fact the IU staff didn't have enough confidence in its running game that it can pick up a half yard against a I-AA foe to move the chains. While throws to the backs out of the backfield are high percentage plays that often serve the same function as a run, a team still needs to be able to hand the ball to its tailback(s) and pick up those kind of yards when the game is on the line.

That falls on the IU offensive line. Indiana has a handful of tailbacks who can produce plays if given room to run, so it's up to Chris Mangiero, Kyle Thomas, Jonathan Sandberg, Justin Frye and Charlie Emerson to free them up to make plays.

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

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