Bloomington – The Hoosiers lost a couple of tailbacks to injury Saturday, and they are hoping to get one of them back.
Senior Marcus Thigpen had first-quarter touchdown runs of 22 and 77 yards against Central Michigan before having to leave with an ankle injury. Thigpen didn't return in the second half, but IU Coach Bill Lynch said Thigpen was running at practice Monday.
"We're hopeful Marcus will be good to go," Lynch said.
The outlook isn't as bright for junior Bryan Payton. Payton carried a team-high 12 times for 77 yards on Saturday before having to depart with his own ankle injury. Payton suffered a high ankle sprain, similar to the one that kept quarterback Kellen Lewis sidelined for 2 ½ games.
"I would doubt Bryan plays this week," Lynch said.
The third Hoosier to suffer an ankle injury last weekend was Lewis, who re-aggravated the injury that he originally suffered Oct. 11 against Iowa. Lewis didn't return against the Chippewas, but Lynch appears cautiously optimistic that Lewis will be okay by this weekend.
"Kellen was running (Monday)," Lynch said. "Kellen was very similar yesterday to where he was last Monday…they say when you do it the second time it bounces back better than the first time. He was out doing what everyone else was doing yesterday."
Lynch said he's also hopeful that defensive tackle Deonte Mack will be ready to go this weekend after playing only a couple of snaps this past weekend. Offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, meanwhile, will miss his second straight game with a knee injury.
When the 2008 season started, it would have come as no surprise to IU fans that one of IU's kicking specialists would be having an All-Big Ten caliber season, while the other would be going through tough times. But few would have expected that the one who'd be struggling is Austin Starr.
Freshman punter Chris Hagerup has been one of the team's most pleasant surprises, ranking second in the Big Ten with a 43.1 punting average. But Starr has struggled for much of the season, converting a Big Ten-worst 50 percent of his attempts (7-of-14). This comes on the heels of a sophomore season when Starr made a Big Ten-best 21 field goals and converted a conference best 91.3 percent of his attempts (21-of-23).
Starr's problems hurt the Hoosiers badly Saturday, when he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have put them up 10 in the third quarter. Starr also had an extra point blocked later in the game when his attempt was driven low and into the hand of an waiting Central Michigan lineman.
Despite his problems, Lynch said he isn't contemplating a switch to second-string kicker Nick Ford anytime soon.
"I don't think we're there yet," Lynch said. "Austin cares a great deal and it's very, very important to him and he works at it.
"I firmly believe he'll work his way through it, and I see him hitting a big kick down the stretch…we're not in any way ready to give up on him at this point."
The most effective Hoosier quarterback as of late might not be either Kellen Lewis or Ben Chappell. It might actually be Mitchell Evans.
Two weeks ago against Northwestern, the quarterback-turned-wide receiver threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Tandon Doss on a double reverse. This past weekend he lined up in the shotgun formation and carried the ball three times for 25 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Evans doesn't appear ready to become the full-time starter anytime soon, but his play as of late is evidence that the IU staff is trying to find creative ways to get the ball into the hands of one of its best athletes.
"It's another way to get the ball in the hands of a really good football player," Lynch said about the decision to line Evans up on the backfield on a couple of occasions Saturday. "He can run and pass and catch and defend. He's a really talented guy that can do it without a lot of repetitions. Some guys have to do it over and over n and over again. He can do it with very few."
One player who hasn't played as big of a role statistically as many expected this season is tight end Max Dedmond. The talented redshirt freshman has caught only six passes for 51 yards this season, and he's caught more than one pass in only one game this season (2 vs. Michigan State).
Lynch said he still views Dedmond as a pass catching threat in the future, but the way the season has played out he's been needed as a blocker more than as a pass catch.
"Max has really played well, graded out really well," Lynch said. "He's become more of a h-back, blocking guy than a receiver. That's kind of the evolution of what we've had to do due to some of the injuries we've had. He's filled that role. We have no doubts he can be an outstanding receiver. But it's how we've evolved offensively as we've gone through the season and some of the injuries."
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