IU LT Rodger Saffold, LG Pete Saxon and the IU offensive line vs. WKU Defensive Line – While many might be focused on Kellen Lewis and his return to the field Saturday, the more important development is going to be what sort of success IU has running the ball behind an IU offensive line that has three new starters in right tackle Mike Star, right guard Cody Faulkner and center Alex Perry. IU Coach Bill Lynch has stressed the importance of being able to run the ball more successfully this season, so it figures to be a point of emphasis against a Western Kentucky team that surrendered only 135.0 yards/game rushing in 2007. Hoosier tailbacks Marcus Thigpen, Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray will be running behind an IU offensive line that averages 6'6" and 306 pounds, and they'll likely run behind Saffold and Saxon often. Saffold was sidelined for a good portion of camp with a bad back and Saxon missed some time with a bad ankle, but both were back at practice Tuesday and will be ready to go for the opener. Western Kentucky plays a 3-4 defense, and the Hilltoppers' defensive front will be at a decided size disadvantage. If Indiana isn't able to approach the 200-yard mark for the game, that's a bad sign for their hopes of having an improved ground game from '07.
IU CBs Chris Phillips & Chris Adkins vs. WKU WRs Jake Gaebler & Quinterrance Cooper – IU co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic has been very encouraged by what he's seen from his stable of cornerbacks throughout fall camp, and he's settled on the freshman Adkins to join the senior Phillips in the starting line-up. On Saturday, they'll get a chance to show whether the loss of last year's starting corners Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors is a significant setback or not. While the Hilltoppers are more of a ground-oriented attack, they do figure to test their luck through the air as well against the Hoosiers' new starting cornerbacks. Gaebler is the team's top returning receiver with 35 catches for 426 yards and three TDs in '07, while Cooper added 22 catches for 255 yards and two more scores. It's not necessarily important that Phillips or Adkins produce an interception or two Saturday, but avoiding the big play will be critical.
IU P Chris Hagerup vs. WKU Punt Return – Hagerup will get his first chance to punt in a game Saturday, and his performance will be something to keep a close eye on. Hagerup showed a great deal of improvement with his consistency this fall as well as his new two-step approach, and quickly put to rest any doubts about whether or not he'd be the team's punter this fall. But now he'll be moving from the IU practice fields into Memorial Stadium and performing in front of 35,000-plus fans, so the pressure will turn up a couple of notches. Don't be surprised to see the Hilltoppers try to come after Hagerup and apply some pressure and rattle him. If they instead opt to set up the return, they did return a pair of punts for touchdowns last season.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
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