Three Days and Counting...

HoosierNation.com looks at three big concerns for the IU staff has it prepares for Saturday's match-up with No. 2 Michigan. Among those is the potential absence of starting left tackle Rodger Saffold...

Rodger Saffold's absence at left tackle - IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said Monday the 6-5, 270-pound Saffold was doubtful for this weekend's match-up with the Wolverines due to an illness. While he didn't specify what the illness was, he did note that it is "cold and flu season," which suggests it's the flu that could be keeping Saffold on the sidelines after starting the last six games.

Earlier this season, the fact Indiana was starting a true freshman at arguably the most important position along the offensive line was a huge concern, but Saffold has made huge strides over the last month. He's played alongside fellow true freshman Pete Saxon to give the Hoosiers a pair of young but talented linemen on the left side of the line, and the Indiana offense has hit its stride with them on the field.

If Saffold can't play he'll likely be replaced by Kyle Thomas. Thomas started fall camp as the No. 1 left tackle before moving to guard, where he's currently the No. 2 behind Saxon. It's not a new position for Thomas, but it will be a daunting task for the Bloomington (Ind.) North product to slide over on one week's notice and then try to contain either LaMarr Woodley or Rondell Biggs. After talking about Saffold's status Hoeppner talked about how he'd have been intrigued to look at another true freshman at the spot this week – the best bet is he's referring to James Brewer – but he wouldn't use up that player's freshman year of eligibility with only two games left in the regular season.

How will IU be able to defend Michigan's passing attack? - Last week's 63-26 loss to Minnesota revealed two glaring weaknesses for the IU defense – an inability to generate a pass rush, and then some breakdowns in coverage in the secondary. While Bryan Cupito, Logan Payne and Ernie Wheelwright are good players, they don't compare to Chad Henne, Mario Manningham and the rest of the Wolverine wideouts that IU must contend with this weekend.

So what does Indiana do? If IU goes with its max pass rush and regularly blitzes Henne, it's leaving IU's corners and potentially safeties in man-to-man coverage. If IU instead opts to play max coverage and only rush the front four, that group has struggled getting much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and Henne will have enough time to find the holes in IU's zone coverage. The best bet is IU will try to do plenty of both in an effort to keep Henne and the Michigan coaches guessing.

Can IU's confidence withstand another lopsided loss? - Indiana was riding high after winning three out of four, highlighted by a 46-21 drubbing of Michigan State two weeks ago. That outing had just about everyone expecting the Hoosiers to go into Minneapolis and knock off the Gophers and become bowl eligible. That obviously didn't happen. Instead, IU was whipped by the Gophers in an ego-bursting fashion. Minnesota did just about anything it wanted offensively, piling up 541 yards on only 58 players, including a handful of big gainers.

Saturday's result shook IU's confidence, and there's a concern that an ugly effort this weekend against Michigan could shatter it. To the Hoosiers' credit they've consistently found ways to bounce back from seemingly demoralizing defeats to put themselves in a position to earn a bowl trip. But if IU isn't competitive for a second straight week, the IU coaches will have their work cut out for them next week in trying to get the team mentally prepared for the trip to West Lafayette.

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 Matchups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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