How will IU respond in its first road game? – Indiana handled Western Michigan relatively easily a year ago, 39-20, but the second go-around with the Broncos figures to be a much more difficult task.
Why? Because this year's game will be played at Western's Waldo Stadium, and the game is expected to be close to a sell out. Western Michigan averaged 18,625 fans at its home games a year ago, but it is expecting to possibly sell out the 35,000-seat plus stadium on Saturday night. This marks the 31st time Western Michigan has played a Big Ten foe, but it's the first time a Big Ten team has ever traveled to Kalamazoo to faces the Broncos. It's a similar to the one a year ago when IU traveled to Muncie to face Ball State, and IU Coach Bill Lynch expects a similar atmosphere this time around.
"I've been in that (Ball State) stadium a lot of times and it's never been like that night," said Lynch, who was the head coach at Ball State 1995-2002. "That was all because Indiana was coming. So that's the atmosphere we're going to be going into (in Kalamazoo)."
IU has gone on the road against a MAC foe in each of the past two years and fell behind. Two years ago the Hoosiers trailed Central Michigan 3-0 late in the second quarter before eventually pulling out a 20-13 win, and last year IU trailed Ball State 23-9 at half before regrouping for a win. As was the case in each of those two trips, a win this time around won't come easily.
Will IU do a better job of protecting the ball? – Lost in the midst of the Hoosiers' 55-7 rout of Indiana State was the fact IU had six fumbles and one interception. Only one of those fumbles was lost, but the Hoosiers are going against a Western Michigan team that ranked No. 1 in the MAC and 7th nationally a year ago with a +0.92 turnover margin.
"We have to correct (the fumbles) and then we have to knock the ball out on the other side," Lynch said. "We are playing a team that takes great pride in that. A year ago, they were one of the tops in the country in turnover margin.
"We had the ball on the ground six times and there were different reasons. The ball can't be on the ground when we have possession. And we will work on that this week, not that we haven't before now. And the other side of that is that the defense has to get in there and get the football out. Anytime you go on the road, if you can get some turnovers it will be a big help."
In IU's last two trips to MAC venues, it's been unable to generate turnovers. Central Michigan didn't have any giveaways in Mt. Pleasant two years ago, and Ball State had just one interception last season.
Can Indiana have more success running the ball this time around? – Indiana amassed 217 rushing yards in its win over Indiana State, but much of that damage was done in the second half. The Hoosiers totaled just 44 rushing yards in the first half and, other than one third-quarter drive, were unable to get starter Marcus Thigpen going all night.
That's a concern for this weekend's contest, because it plays into the strength of the Bronco defense. Western has a big, physical secondary that returns largely in tact from a year ago when it led the nation with 24 interceptions. While utilizing Kellen Lewis and the IU wideouts will be a big part of the team's gameplan, Coach Bill Lynch wants to be able have some balance as well with the ground attack.
IU will likely get a lift in that regard with the return of Demetrius McCray. McCray missed the season opener with a shoulder injury but was expected back to practice Tuesday. He's the most elusive runner on the IU roster and if Thigpen struggles early, don't be surprised if McCray gets the majority of the work Saturday evening.
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
WESTERN MICHIGAN: Three Days and Counting
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