Hoosiers hold on for second victory

Last year Indiana complained about playing just one half of football in a spotty 39-20 win over Western Michigan in Bloomington. Saturday night in Kalamazoo the Hoosiers did it again, but once more came away with the victory. Indiana moved to 2-0 thanks to clinching a 37-27 road win early Sunday morning.

Last year Indiana complained about playing just one half of football in a spotty 39-20 win over Western Michigan in Bloomington. Saturday night in Kalamazoo the Hoosiers did it again, but once more came away with the victory. Indiana used a combination of Western Michigan gifts and some big plays of their own to secure their second win of the season early Sunday morning 37-27.

The Hoosiers thought the game was put away hours earlier Saturday night thanks to a streak of five consecutive turnovers by the home team and the continued dominance of the Hoosier air attack. For the second straight game Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis and receiver James Hardy simply outclassed defenders, hooking up for two easy scores in the first half. It helped the Hoosiers build a 31-7 lead through two quarters that proved to be enough to hold off a serious Western Michigan charge in the second half.

"It was a long night for all of us," said Indiana Head Coach Bill Lynch about the over four hours long contest. "But it was a good win for Indiana and for these kids, because it was the first time on the road against a good football team."

Despite being the first Big Ten team to play at Western Michigan and being greeted with a raucous atmosphere, it didn't take long for the Hoosiers to feel right at home. After a slow start that saw them fall behind 7-3 in the opening minutes, Indiana's defense took control and then their offense took advantage. Bronco Anthony Middleton found himself wide open for a seven-yard touchdown at the 5:20 mark of the first quarter, but it would be all downhill for Western Michigan after that.

"I thought we really responded well there in the first half," Lynch said.

On their next five offensive possessions the Broncos fell victim to two interceptions and three fumbles. The two interceptions belonged to IU true freshman Mitchell Evans, who entered the game at safety after starter Austin Thomas left injured in the first quarter. One of the fumbles was returned by sophomore defensive tackle Greg Middleton for a 44-yard touchdown, a career-first for the big man that provided a turning point in the first half. Indiana finished +4 in the turnover department on the night.

"The defense played great," said Lynch. "When you can create that many turnovers and such great field position…that set the tone for the whole thing."

As opportunistic and successful as the IU defense was in the first half, the Hoosier offense was equally effective. Western Michigan's defense was without leading tackler Austin Pritchard and starting safety Louis Delmas. Their absence was glaringly noticeable early on. Indiana scored on four of the first five offensive possessions, including touchdown passes of nine, 12 and 24 yards. Two of which, unsurprisingly, went to Hardy. The duo has now connected for 13 touchdowns in their last nine games and Saturday there was once again no one capable of stopping them when they were on the same page.

Meanwhile, the Bronco offense couldn't get anything going despite trying three different quarterbacks. Sophomore Tim Hiller got the starting nod, but was yanked after an interception by Evans at the goalline. Freshman Drew Burdi was then removed from the game when his only offensive series resulted in a fumble after a blindside Chris Phillips' sack. Senior Thomas Peregrin was the third signal-caller to try his hand behind center, but his botched snap resulted in the Hoosiers 44-yard fumble return for a score. In the opening half the Broncos had nearly as many turnovers as first downs. After catching seven passes for 62 yards in the first quarter, Bronco All-American candidate Jamarko Simmons was mostly a non-factor over the next two quarters as the Hoosiers pulled away. With a strong fourth quarter he would finish with 14 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown, nearly mirroring his numbers in the season opener at West Virginia.

"When you go on the road you got to bring your defense, because you are going to get the offense's best shot but (the IU defense) took them completely out of their game," said Lynch. "Other than a couple big plays late, I thought they really played great."

While the Hoosiers will certainly be happy to take a 10-point road win, there will be plenty to work on in the film room tomorrow. The Hoosiers simply fell asleep at the wheel in the second half putting up just six points in the final half and surrendering 20 points on defense. The Broncos answered with several big plays in the final 30 minutes, including a 98-yard kickoff return in the third quarter by Brandon West.

Indiana's big lead seemed to give them a false sense of security. But when Simmons caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to pull the Broncos within 13 points at the start of the 4th quarter IU knew they were back in a battle. A career-long 48-yard field goal by Austin Starr gave the Hoosiers some temporary breathing room, but the Bronco's quickly answered with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Hiller to tight end Brenden Ledbetter. Hiller, 28 of 51 on the night, would end up passing for 343 yards on the Hoosiers. His last passing touchdown cut the Hoosier lead to just ten points with just under nine minutes to play.

Ideally, Indiana would have liked to run the clock out, but their ground game once again struggled. Despite finishing the game with 221 yards on the ground, they couldn't control the clock at key times late in the game. The Hoosiers had three unsuccessful drives in the 4th quarter that gave the ball back to a surging Bronco offense.

"As the game went on they sold out at the line of scrimmage to stop the run," Lynch said. "At that point we threw that one interception on a tipped ball so you're thinking let's not throw it. I think we probably could have made some plays, but we we're trying to be smart. Right now we were because we won by 10 and we are going to get on that plane and go home."

IU's offensive struggles in the fourth quarter didn't cost them, because the Broncos couldn't capitalize on opportunities either. That was largely due to an IU defensive line that pestered the quarterback all night long, recording eight sacks, and helping to keep the Broncos off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Indiana now has 13 sacks this season. They had 14 for all of 2006. The second half certainly wasn't pretty, but IU was able to secure the victory and move to 2-0 on the season.

"We'll learn from this, because you got to be able to put games away," said Lynch.

"We really responded well in the first half and then in the second half some things happened that we will learn from so that's the benefit of it all."

The Hoosiers now find themselves just four wins away from becoming bowl eligible and welcome another MAC opponent to Memorial Stadium in Akron next week.

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