Opponents preview: Indiana offense

Part two of BadgerNation.com's glance at the Hoosier football team

Indiana will miss Matt LoVecchio's presence at quarterback and some skill position players need to emerge. But with a veteran offensive line and some playmakers on hand, the Hoosiers' offense should be a respectable, middle-of-the-road bunch in the Big Ten this season.

2004 by the numbers

Total offense: 320.5 yards per game (No. 99 nationally); 322.8 yards per conference game (No. 7 Big Ten)
Scoring offense: 23.8 points per game (76); 19.9 (9)
Passing offense: 186.3 (83); 201.4 (5)
Passing efficiency: 122.5 (63); 122.4 (4)
Rushing offense: 134.2 (77); 121.4 (8)
Touchdowns: 26 – 13 rushing, 13 passing; 16 – 7 rushing, 9 passing (9)
Third-down conversions: 34 percent on 55 of 162; 31.6 on 37 of 117 (11)
Turnovers lost: 15 – nine interceptions and 6 of 17 fumbles (16); 9 – seven interceptions and two fumbles (2)
Field goal kicking: 11 of 14; 7 of 10 (5 in percentage rank)
Kick returns: 28.1 (1); 22.8 (3)
Punt returns: 10.0 (55); 12.5 (3)

Quarterbacks analysis

After playing in six games as a redshirt freshman a year ago, Blake Powers (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) steps in to replace Matt LoVecchio in the Hoosiers' staring lineup. Powers has the arm strength and enough talent to be successful in new coach Terry Hoeppner's offense. He was 9 of 22 for 90 yards and two interceptions last season, all in relief.

No. 2 signal caller Graeme McFarland (6-1, 204) doubles as a pitcher on Indiana's baseball team. As the backup two years ago, he was 18 of 36 for 206 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions in nine games, including one start. But in 2004 McFarland chose to focus on baseball and he still split time with that sport this spring. But he could push Powers for the starting job.

The Hoosiers thought they had two decent developmental prospects in redshirt freshmen Mike Vlahogeorge and Grant Gregory, but the former walked away from football and the latter transferred to South Florida, stripping IU of half its depth.

Indiana found a potential salve last week when it signed Kellen Lewis (6-3, 185), a recent graduate of Mandarin High School (Jacksonville, Fla.), who will step into fall camp as the Hoosiers' No. 3 quarterback. Lewis had scholarship offers from the likes of Florida and North Carolina State, but those schools wanted him to change positions. Indiana let him stay at quarterback, where he was a Florida Player of the Year last season.

Offensive line analysis

Indiana must replace Chris Jahnke, who started throughout last season at right guard and center. But the five starters this fall have combined for 94 career starts. If the group can stay healthy it should be a point of strength.

Jahnke had to move to center last year after Chris Mangiero broke his foot four games into the season. A 6-1, 310-pound junior, Mangiero is one of the better centers in a conference with its share of good ones.

Left tackle Isaac Sowells, a 6-3, 330-pound fifth-year senior, can engulf defenders and might play on Sundays down the road. He had started 16 straight games before a wrist injury in the fourth game ended his season.

When Sowells went down, left guard Adam Hines (6-2, 315) slid over to left tackle. Having started 24 straight games and 33 of 34 games in his career, the senior will return to left guard this year.

When Jahnke moved to center, Brandon Hatcher (6-2, 305) stepped in at right guard and started the last seven games of the season. It was a role reversal from 2003, when Hatcher started the first four games before suffering a season-ending injury and being replaced by Mangiero. Hatcher will return to right guard in the fall, but he is in a battle for the starting job with sophomore Brandon Joyce (6-5, 310).

The one constant amidst all the injury-induced shuffling was junior Justin Frye (6-5, 310) at right tackle. Frye started all 11 games at the position as a sophomore last season. As a redshirt freshman in 2003, he started the first 11 games of the fall before missing the season finale with an injury.

Other top reserves include sophomore guard Johnathan Sandberg (6-2, 295), junior tackle Scott Anderson (6-6, 305) and sophomore center Ben Wyss (6-1, 285).

Receivers analysis

Record-setting receiver Courtney Roby is gone, taking his 55 receptions, 810 yards and seven touchdowns from last season with him. The team's third and fourth leading receivers, David Lewis and Travis Haney, also exhausted their eligibility.

That could open the door for senior Jahkeen Gilmore (6-0, 214) to have a breakout season. In nine games last year, he caught 23 passes for 308 yards and two scores. Gilmore is a talented target for Powers, but other players will need to emerge to keep defenses honest.

The other expected starters in Indiana's three wide receiver set are sophomore Ryan Skelton (6-3, 210), a converted safety, and redshirt freshman Marcus Thigpen (5-9, 175). Senior Rhett Kleinschmidt (6-2, 200) is among the top reserves, but he has just four receptions in his career.

The player to watch is junior Lance Bennett (5-6, 165) a diminutive athlete who has dazzled with his marvelous punt and kick return skills. Also a professional songwriter, Bennett has yet to catch a pass at Indiana, but his ability to make people miss in the open field makes him a dangerous potential target.

Other top reserves include redshirt freshmen James Hardy (6-7, 205), who also plays for the Hoosier basketball team, and James Bailey (6-2, 205). True freshman Nick Polk (6-0, 185), a Milwaukee Vincent product, might work his way up the depth in the fall.

At tight end, starter Aaron Halterman is gone after catching six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown last season. Junior Chris Rudanovich (6-4, 265) and sophomore Nick Sexton (6-4, 265), however, should be capable replacements. Sexton, who has put on 35 pounds since last fall, is still looking for his first career reception but Rudanovich went 12-133-2 last year.

Running backs analysis

Hoeppner decided to retain running backs coach Gerald Brown, who may have his hands full this year. Do not expect the Hoosiers to pick out a featured running back at any time this season. Instead, expect seniors Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington to form a committee with sophomore Kenni Burns (5-11, 202) and potentially true freshmen Dennis Underwood (6-3, 200), Bryan Payton (5-9, 195), Scout.com's No. 75 ranked running back prospect in the nation, and Demetrius McCray (6-0, 180).

Last season's leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis (794 yards and five touchdowns) transferred to Mississippi, leaving Taylor (6-0, 220) as the top returning runner. He had 82 carries for 329 yards and three scores last year and is 246-1,022-8 in 27 career games.

Washington (5-9, 205) is a more elusive runner who went for 23-122-1 last year. He was IU's leading rusher in 2002 with 174-688-9, but a knee injury kept him out of action in 2003.

Taylor is a decent pass catcher and that will endear him to Hoeppner's offense. Washington caught 15 passes in 2002 but just one last year. The youngsters all have potential and will get every opportunity to contribute.

Special teams notes

Chip-shot artist Bryan Robertson is no longer kicking field goals for IU. He was 11 of 14 last year, including an 11 of 12 mark from within 40 yards. The likely replacement is redshirt freshman Austin Starr (6-4, 190).

The return game should be excellent yet again. Bennett averaged 30.0 yards per kick return, including a 98-yard touchdown, the fourth-best mark in college football. Indiana's 28.1 yards per return led the nation. Bennett was also an excellent punt returner, averaging 10.9 per attempt. But that duty may fall to fellow receiver Marcus Thigpen this year.

Matching up with Wisconsin

The Badgers' defense will be stout against one-dimensional teams this season. And though the Hoosiers will try to establish a running game, they are going to be a predominantly one-dimensional team.

Indiana's offensive line is one of the most experienced the young Badger defensive line will face this season. But the balance of talent lies with UW. Yes, Indiana's struggles were partly the result of injury-induced-inconsistency, but this was a team that allowed 27 sacks last year. After stuffing the run, UW should be able to tee off against Powers. And do not expect Gilmore to get the better of Brett Bell either.

Kick coverage units everywhere should fear Bennett. But UW kicker Taylor Mehlhaff could be consistently booming kickoffs into the end zone.

The Badgers were also the more talented team in 2001 and 2002, but they still head into this game with a two game losing streak to the Hoosiers.

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