MURRAY PREVIEW: Two Big Concerns

The IU staff will spend the week warning the team about the dangers of looking past Murray State, but what will the Hoosiers learn about themselves against a lower division team that has won only three games in the last two years? Today, we continue our day-by-day preview of the Hoosiers' week two match-up with "Two Big Concerns" about Saturday night's contest...

Will the Hoosiers learn much about themselves from this game? – Bill Lynch isn't about to fuel any team's fire, including an Football Championship Series (formerly I-AA) squad that has won three games in the last two years. That's why he'll talk about the Racers' 5'8" back-up quarterback Nico Yantko as if he's legitimately a Doug Flutie clone, and about Murray State as if they're every bit as dangerous as the Southern Illinois team from a couple of seasons ago that stunned the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

"Yantko is pretty good," Lynch said. "They really move the ball with him, and they put up a lot of points. So he seems like a really competitive, athletic guy."

But Yantko isn't Flutie, Murray State isn't Southern Illinois or Appalachian State, and the Racers don't figure to provide much of a test Saturday. On paper, this is one of the weaker teams to come into Memorial Stadium in years, a lower level team from a lower division level that is coming to town more for a check than a win.

So what, other than a win, will Indiana get out of this game? There are still questions to be answered as the Big Ten season draws nearer, and it's questionable whether the staff will get many answers this weekend. It will provide another good opportunity to see if Chris Hagerup can bounce back from a tough week and solidify his standing as the team's punter, but Murray State doesn't figure to test the IU defense a great deal. The competition gets a lot tougher after an off week when the Hoosiers face Ball State Sept. 20, and there could still be some uncertainty about how well tested IU will be heading into that game.

Can the Hoosiers make some significant progress with its special teams play? – One of the strengths of IU's team in recent years has been its special teams play. That's started with the work turned in by placekicker Austin Starr, but it's also included the big-play potential of Marcus Thigpen on kick-off returns and Tracy Porter on punt returns.

Starr appears to be picking up right where he left off a year ago, but the other facets could stand to show some improvement. The punting situation has been oft-discussed, and it's clear that Hagerup needs to put last week behind him and bounce back with a solid effort Saturday. A repeat performance of his Western Kentucky performance would likely lead to the staff needing to give serious consideration to using Joe Kleinsmith.

But the return game could also stand to see some improvement. No. 1 punt returner Ray Fisher's availability is in question due to a shoulder injury, and his back-up, Nick Polk, fumbled a fair catch attempt last week against Western Kentucky. If Fisher is unable to play, don't be surprised if Jerimy Finch is the choice to return punts this week. He's still second on the IU depth chart at strong safety behind Austin Thomas, and the staff wants to get the Florida transfer involved as much as possible while he learns the defense. Giving him a chance to make plays on special teams could be a way to accomplish that feat.

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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