Upon Further Review: Akron

Indiana heads into the Big Ten season with a 3-0 record thanks to its 41-24 win over Akron Saturday at Memorial Stadium. HoosierNation.com breaks down IU's performance, grading the team's effort in rushing offense, passing offense, rush defense, pass defense and special teams...

Rushing offense ¬– A
It's probably time for everyone to stop wondering when Indiana is going to settle on one tailback and instead be pleased with the fact the Hoosiers have a handful of players who can give teams fits with their ability to run the ball. Paced by Kellen Lewis' 199-yard, two-touchdown effort Indiana amassed 339 yards on the ground, it's most proficient day since a 489-yard day in a win at Michigan State in 2001. Marcus Thigpen (12 carries, 78 yards) and Demetrius McCray (13 carries, 60 yards) were also instrumental for an IU offense that has now produced four straight 200-yard games dating back to last year's season finale against Purdue. The only weakness with the rushing attack – and it's a glaring one - is the Hoosiers' inability to be productive in short yardage situations. Twice IU found itself on the goal line in double tight end sets and failed to pound Josiah Sears in between the tackles for scores. Kellen Lewis eventually connected with Sears on a 4th-down throw for one score and a second time IU had to settle for an Austin Starr field goal, so that's a reason for concern. But with 339 yards on the ground, there's a lot more to be happy about when it comes to IU's ground game.

Notable: Indiana heads into the Big Ten season ranked seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten in rushing with 258.6 yards/game. Thanks a huge improvement from recent years, as IU was ranked 89th in rushing offense in 2006 (113.8/game), 77th in 2005 (131.2/game) and 78th in 2004 (134.2). Indiana comes in just ahead of next week's foe, Illinois, which is averaging 258.0/game in getting off to a 2-1 start. The only other two Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25 nationally are Minnesota (20th – 229.0/game) and Michigan (24th – 226.3/game).

Passing offense – B+
It was the team's rushing totals that stood out Saturday, but the passing attack was just as important to the Hoosiers' 41-24 victory over Akron. Kellen Lewis threw for only 137 yards, but completed nearly 80 percent of his throws (19-of-24) and his numbers would have been even more impressive if not for an ill-advised reversal of field by Ray Fisher that resulted in a 17-yard loss on one of Lewis' completions. The two biggest pass plays of the game, meanwhile, didn't show up on Lewis' ledger. With IU clinging to a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter, Hoosier wideout James Hardy twice drew 15-yard pass interference flags to give Indiana a fresh set of downs. The second of those came on a 3rd-and-7 from the Akron 42, moving the ball to the Akron 27. Lewis would score from 17 yards out three plays later to put IU back up by two scores. Lewis' throwing totals might not have been as impressive as what he did on the ground, but he was tremendously efficient. On third downs, for example, Lewis was 6-of-7 for 80 yards, converting first downs on four of those throws.

Notable: James Hardy has a modest 10 catches in three games, but those receptions have gone for 245 yards and five touchdowns. He now has 25 career TDs, ranking him fifth on the school's all-time list along with Vaughn Dunbar. He also ranks fifth on the school's all-time list in both receptions (122) and receiving yards (1,860).

Rushing defense – B-
The Hoosier defenders spend a great deal of time going against an ultra-athletic quarterback in practice, but the Zips' signal caller Carlton Jackson still gave them fits. Jackson didn't enter the game until the second quarter but still managed 71 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Take away 39 yards in losses that came primarily on sacks and Jackson was over 100 yards in three quarters of play. He managed to elude just about every IU defender that had a one-on-one opportunity to bring him down, and it was his play and spark that got the Zips back in the game. Indiana did do a very good job on Akron tailbacks Bryan Williams and Dennis Kennedy, who combined for just 38 yards on 15 carries. Akron all but abandoned the tailback tandem in the second half, as they combined for just four carries for 11 yards.

Notable: Indiana maintained its lofty national ranking in rush defense after Akron managed just 120 yards on 41 carries. The Hoosiers rank 10th nationally against the run, yielding only 65.3 yards/game and 1.9 yards/carry. Perhaps most impressive is that Indiana has yet to allow an opposing runner to break off a 20-yard run in a game. Carlton Jackson had a 19-yard run Saturday, the longest run against the IU defense in three games. By contrast, Indiana had six runs of at least 20 yards against Akron, including four by Kellen Lewis.

Passing defense – C+
Carlton Jackson hadn't done a great deal with his arm heading into the Indiana contest, having completed 8-of-15 passes for 47 yards in the Zips' first two games. But Jackson was 15-of-21 for 200 yards and two scores against the Hoosiers. Jabari Arthur (7 catches, 118 yards, 1 TD) was his top target, but he did spread his completions around to six different receivers. Tracy Porter was also flagged for one pass interference call, while Nick Polk had a very odd personal foul called on him on another play in the secondary. The good news is that the Hoosiers allowed only one pass play of 25 yards of more (28) and added four more sacks to their season total, bringing it up to 17. But they did have some problems defending a dual-threat quarterback, which could present some problems for next week when they line up against Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who threw for 97 yards and rush for another 90 in Saturday's win over Syracuse.

Notable: The Hoosiers are getting a great deal of productivity out of its third-and-long defensive line unit, which has consisted of Ryan Marando and Greg Middleton at defensive end along with Jammie Kirlew and Brian Faires at the defensive tackle spots. All four of Saturday's sacks came from that quartet, and that group has combined for 10 of IU's 17 sacks. Middleton's five sacks, meanwhile, ranks second nationally to South Florida's George Selvie, who has 5 ½.

Special teams – B
Austin Starr didn't have any late-game field goals, but he had one of his better games. He converted both of his field goals attempts (21, 30), making him 7-of-8 on the year. He was also very solid on kickoffs, blasting two of his eight for touchbacks and having another couple that reached the goal line. Akron's average starting field position when it took possession via a Starr kickoff was its own 28-yard line, which is more than respectable now that the kickoff has been moved back to the 30. The Hoosiers are still looking to make a big play on a return, as teams continue to steer clear of Marcus Thigpen on kickoffs. Thigpen got his hands on only one of Akron's five kickoffs, returning it eight yards. Michael Hines also didn't have the best of games, averaging only 34.3 yards on three punts. Only one of those punts was returned, though, and that was for only five yards.

Notable Stat: Austin Starr is on pace to be the most proficient field goal kicker in school history and to set an IU single-season record for field goals. Starr is now 19-of-23 on career field goals, or 82.6 percent. The record for players who have made at least 10 field goals in their career is 74.1 percent by Andy Payne (43-of-58, 1997-00). Starr's seven field goals this season puts him on pace to challenge the school record of 17, set by Pete Stoyanovich's All-America season in 1988.

Overall – B+
The Hoosiers jumped out quickly to a 10-0 lead and then responded a couple of times to Akron charges. The fourth-quarter drives were particularly impressive, as IU went on back-to-back scoring marches to turn a 27-24 nailbiter into a 41-24 victory. While plenty would have liked a more lopsided victory, Indiana will get more out of this game long term by how it unfolded. There won't be too many blowouts once conference play opens this week, and the fact IU has had to respond on both sides of the ball in the last two weeks will pay dividends in tight games in the Big Tenh.

Peegs.com Top Stories