WESTERN MICHIGAN: Upon Further Review

What areas did IU impress in the most during its 37-27 win at Western Michigan? Which facets of the game continue to be a concern? HoosierNation.com grades the Hoosiers' effort in all facets of the game...

Rushing offense - B

The Hoosiers' three straight, third-quarter failures from the one-yard line not withstanding, a second-straight 200-yard game is a very positive sign for this football team. After being a non-factor a week ago, Marcus Thigpen ran for a team-high 81 yards on 22 carries, and Demetrius McCray returned from an injury to add 75 yards on eight carries, including a 45-yard run. The one issue, though, remains the occasional inability to line up and convert the short-yardage situations. It was obvious when IU quarterback Kellen Lewis failed on three quarterback sneaks from the one-yard line, as well late in the fourth quarter when Josiah Sears was stopped for no gain on a 3rd-and-2 that could have put the game away. Sears continues to be the Hoosiers' tailback of choice in those situations, and he managed only seven yards on seven carries Saturday night. It could very well continue to be a problem for the Hoosiers all season long, as they aren't a team designed to line up and play smash mouth football.

Notable: The Hoosiers have now rushed for at least 200 yards in three straight games. Indiana wrapped up the 2006 season with 215 yards on the ground against Purdue – its only 200-yard effort of the season – and had 217 last week against Indiana State. Saturday's 221-yard effort is the most rushing yards in a game for an IU team since it piled up 305 yards Kentucky in 2005.

Passing offense – B

Quarterback Kellen Lewis didn't have as efficient a game as he did a week ago, but some of that is a result of going against a much better secondary as well as playing the majority of the second half in the rain. But Lewis still managed to finish with 221 yards and three scores on 20-of-40 passing with one interception. James Hardy had his second consecutive two-touchdown effort, but other than a flurry at the close of the second quarter the Broncos succeeded in taking Hardy out of the game. Instead, Lewis spent a great time throwing to his slot receivers, most notably Ray Fisher. Fisher caught nine balls for 77 yards, while fellow slot receiver Andrew Means had a couple of big catches on his way to a three-catch, 51-yard evening.

Notable: Lewis struggled throwing the ball on third downs in the second half, going just 1-of-6 with one interception. As a team, the Hoosiers were just 1-of-11 on third down conversions in the second half after going 7-of-10 on third downs in the first half.

Rushing defense – A

At least in the first two weeks, Indiana has been vastly improved against the run. After surrendering only 46 yards on the ground in the opener against Indiana State, Indiana gave up only 30 yards to Western Michigan. The Broncos fell behind big early and relied almost exclusively on the arm of Tim Hiller, but the fact remains that in two games, Indiana has allowed only three runs of at least 10 yards and no runs of more than 15 yards. That's a huge improvement for a defense that surrendered nearly 175 yards per game on the ground a year ago. Spearheading the Hoosiers effort on the ground was Geno Johnson, who finished with a career-high 10 tackles as well as 1 ½ tackles for loss.

Notable: Don't look now, but Indiana is ranked seventh nationally in rushing defense, giving up 38.0/game on its way to a 2-0 start. As good as that is, IU only ranks fourth in the Big Ten. Penn State leads the nation with -1.5 yards/game; Iowa is second at 22.5/game; and Michigan State ranks fifth at 29.5/game. Last year's statistical champion in the category during the regular season – Michigan – ranks 109th out of 119 Division I programs at 245.5 yards/game.

Passing defense – B

Statistically speaking, Western Michigan had a big day throwing the ball. Tim Hiller was 28-of-51 for 343 yards and three scores, the biggest single-game passing effort for an IU opponent since Minnesota's Bryan Cupito threw for 378 in the Gophers' 63-25 win a year ago. But IU's effort wasn't nearly as bad as the numbers might indicate. IU's pass defense generated three turnovers – a pair of Mitchell Evans interceptions and a Christopher Phillips-caused fumble by Hiller that Greg Middleton picked up and ran back for a touchdown. The Hoosiers also had eight sacks, which is more than half of the team's total of 14 from a year ago. Despite the 300-plus-yard evening, the Broncos only averaged 6.6 per pass play, and that total is a lot less if you include the 50 yards Broncos quarterbacks lost on sacks. There were a few too many missed tackles, but all in all, a good effort by IU's pass defense.

Notable: Jamarkis Simmons' 14 receptions equaled the single-game record for an IU opponent. Simmons tied the mark set by Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield, who caught 14 passes for 138 yards in Purdue's 63-24 win in 2004.

Special teams – C+

There were a handful of big plays in the game for IU, but few were bigger than Starr's 48-yard field goal with 12:36 remaining the third quarter. Western Michigan had turned a 31-7 halftime deficit into a much more manageable 34-21 game, but Starr's kick put IU up by two touchdowns and two two-point conversions and steadied the Hoosiers' ship. The kick was a career-long for Starr, who also converted field goals of 21 and 24 yards while missing a 37-yarder. Michael Hines, meanwhile, had a great start, averaging 38.3 yards on his first three punts while downing each inside the WMU 20. He didn't have as much luck on his last two, though, producing punts of just 27 and 26 yards in the fourth quarter that gave Western good field position to start drives. That was a lowlight, as was the kickoff return unit surrendering a 98-yard return for a touchdown that got the Broncos back into the game late in the third quarter.

Notable Stat: Teams are doing everything they can to keep the ball away from Marcus Thigpen on kickoffs. Thigpen led the nation with a 30.1 yards/return average a year ago to go along with three touchdowns, but he finally got his first return of the year in the fourth quarter Saturday. He returned it 38 yards to midfield to start off a drive that eventually culminated in Starr's 48-yard field goal. He's currently not ranked nationally in kickoff returns because a player must average 1.2 kickoff returns/game to qualify.

Overall – B-

The first half was easily an "A" effort on both sides of the ball. The defense forced four second-quarter turnovers which translated into 21 points. Kellen Lewis threw three touchdown passes, including a pair to James Hardy, to help Indiana to a 31-7 lead that sent most of the near capacity crowd home at intermission. The second half, though, was another story. The offense produced only a pair of field goals, and the defense gave up 20 points and a boatload of yards to Hiller. The defense did come up with some big stops in the fourth quarter, though. With IU clinging to a 37-27 lead, the IU defense forced WMU into two straight three-and-outs to preserve the win.

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