WESTERN MICHIGAN: Two Days and Counting

What's it going to take for the Hoosiers to pick up a road win against a MAC team for the third straight season? HoosierNation.com looks at two of the biggest match-ups in Saturday's game in Kalamazoo...

IU CB Tracy Porter vs. WMU WR Jemarko Simmons – The IU coaching staff isn't sure if it will be Tim Hiller or Thomas Peregrin under center for Western Michigan this weekend, but they do know who the Bronco quarterback will be throwing to – Jemarko Simmons.

Simmons is the 6-2, 234-pound wideout who has quickly become the Broncos' biggest offensive weapon. He caught 14 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener at West Virginia, and concluded his 2006 campaign with a 13-catch, 172-yard performance against Cincinnati in the International Bowl. During that two-game stretch Simmons has caught 27 of WMU's 50 completed passes, or 54 percent. Compare that to IU's James Hardy, who led IU in receiving in both the season opener against Indiana State and the 2006 season finale at Purdue. Hardy caught a combined 12 passes on those two games or 31.6 percent of the Hoosiers' 38 completed passes.

While IU will play plenty of zone coverage, Simmons likes to use his 6'2" 234-pound frame to catch the ball underneath and then try to break tackles to produce big plays. It will be Porter's job to keep him from getting off the line easily and into his route as well as slowing him down when the Hoosiers are in man-to-man coverage.

"He's a big guy, physical, he can run and he can catch," said Porter. "He has all the qualities. You have to go out and stay assignment perfect against him and do our job and things will take care of itself."

Porter and the IU defense did have success against Simmons a year ago. While he did finish with a more than respectable seven receptions for 99 yards, all of those catches came in the first half. That helped the Hoosiers cruise to a relatively easy 39-20 win in the 2006 season opener.

"In that game we only played one half of football," Porter said. "The half where he didn't have any catches, we're going to try to play that defense in both halves and keep him to little or no catches."

IU TBs Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray vs. WMU LBs - There are few better ways to silence a rambunctious crowd than long, sustained, chain-moving drives. To do that IU is going to need a big game from its stable of running backs.

Count on Thigpen and McCray being the two primary ball toters. While Bryan Payton (11 carries, 56 yards) and Trea Burgess (10 carries, 50 yards) were the Hoosiers' two top rushers among their tailbacks last week, IU Coach Bill Lynch said Wednesday that it will be Thigpen, McCray and Josiah Sears getting the majority of the work this weekend, with Payton and Burgess "ready to go" if needed.

McCray could be the player to watch this weekend. A shoulder injury kept him out of the opener, but he's been back to practice all week and will play. If all goes according to plan, he should get 10-15 carries against the Broncos and should play a big role in the Hoosiers' gameplan.

McCray and Thigpen will be going against a Western Michigan defense that could be missing a very important player. Strongside linebacker Austin Pritchard hurt his knee last week and is doubtful for this weekend's game. His absence would be a big blow to a defense that gave up 320 yards and seven touchdowns last weekend to West Virginia.

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

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