Fletcher Keel: Indiana has struggled in their first two games, no doubt, nearly falling in week one to Southern Illinois and escaping with a late-game pick-six over FIU. How have the Hoosiers been able to close out the games to get the win.
Kyle Robbins: Certainly, you'd be mistaken to call the SIU anything but a struggle. It was a disastrous outing for Indiana's defense -- which had been described as much improved by those inside the program. However , it *was* explainable. Indiana was without 5 defensive starters, some due to injury, some due to a surprise suspension -- including arguably Indiana's four best defensive players in DTs Darius Latham and Ralph Green, linebacker Tegray Scales, and safety Chase Dutra.
Three of those five returned for the Hoosiers last week against FIU -- and results were much better. The defense only surrendered 8 second half points and the two big-play touchdowns surrendered in the first half were botched blitz calls Kevin Wilson and defensive coordinator Brian Knorr owned after the game. Sure, some of the expected pep wasn't there from the IU offense. But as the advanced numbers show, this one was should not have been as close as it was. Indiana was much more dominant that the score indicated, despite not having major contributors in Scales and Dutra. Scales will return from suspension this week, and Dutra could be back in the lineup off injury as well.
FK: In your recap of the FIU victory, you mentioned that many Hoosiers saw the WKU game as "that game." What did that mean? Is that a good thing for the Tops or a negative thing for Indiana?
KR: It can be both. Indiana, dating back for some time, has a propensity to inexplicably lose one non-conference game to a Group of Five opponent. Last year, it was Bowling Green -- the week prior to knocking off SEC East champion Mizzou on the road. This year's non-conference schedule has been viewed as very, very manageable for Indiana since it came out. The road trip to Wake Forest was a far less daunting task than other power non-conference matchups of years past. The stumbling block, if it's coming, most assumed would be this matchup with WKU.
So, if you were hoping for Indiana as a power team to be overlooking WKU, it probably isn't a good thing. There's a healthy respect for what Jeff Brohm has in Bowling Green -- players, the coaching staff, and fans needn't any introduction. I highly doubt this is a situation where you're going to catch anyone looking forward.
It's a positive for y'all in the sense that Indiana fans still aren't any sure if this team is any good at all. A WKU win would shock no one. SIU and FIU don't tell you much. In a down Big Ten, I could see this Indiana team going 8-4 or 9-3. (Yes, really). I could also see them going 2-10 and losing out the rest of the way.
Indiana fans know that Western is a quality opponent capable of taking home a W, and thus some of those questions should be answered come about 8pm on Saturday.
FK: Jordan Howard is already the Hoosiers' leading rusher. What is it he's brought to the IU offense that has lead him to be so successful?
KR: Well, not only is he the team's leading rusher -- he's leading the entire Big Ten and is 5th in the nation already. But I'd say two things. One, he's got a lot of similarities to Tevin Coleman. He's a strong, downhill runner that's quick to the hole with good vision. He might not be the home-run hitter Coleman was with elite top-end speed -- but he's consistently getting you 5, 6, 7 yards a carry. That's all you can ask for out of a back.
Two, Indiana has an offensive line that can stand toe to toe with any in college football. It's likely the team's best unit -- and they're opening up the same hallways for Howard as they did for Coleman. It's easy to be a great runner when you can drive a dang sportscar through the gap. They've only given up one sack over two games, too.
FK: Looking at the numbers, it seems Ricky Jones and Simmie Cobbs Jr. seem to be the passing game. Is there anyone else who might have a sneaky good game, or are Jones and Cobbs the biggest deep threats for the Hoosiers?
KR: Wideout was the biggest area of concern coming into the season -- but Jones has been impressive so far. He's undersized, but is a big time big play threat -- he's leading the Big Ten in receiving yards already. Cobbs is your more prototypical outside reciever, bigger, taller, red zone target. This is a position Indiana fans will have their eye on in this one, too. Don't be surprised if 5'7 former walk on Mitchell Paige has a big catch or two out of the slot.
FK: One of the bigger storylines heading into the day is Anthony Davis' return to IU. For Hilltopper fans who don't know, what can we expect from Davis?
KR: To be quite honest, Tops fans probably know as much as we do about what to expect from Davis. He hardly saw the field at Indiana after transferring in from Dayton, buried on the depth chart between three talented backs in Coleman, D'Angelo Roberts, and Devine Redding. I don't think anyone here ever really saw him play enough to assess his ability. I'm sure he'll be gunning for a big day if he gets tapped for carries to replace Leon Allen, and I'm sure Indiana fans would be happy to see him do well. Just not *too* well.
FK: What will have to happen for Indiana to win? What will have to happen for WKU to win? What's your prediction for Saturday?
KR: Ask me this question a week ago, my answer might be much different. Indiana just simply has to avoid giving up the big play in the secondary. They'll score, certainly -- they just can't let WKU score *more*. I'm still undecided on a final score, but you should definitely take the over. For now, we'll say WKU 49, Indiana 45.
Yes, that's right. I have an awful, unescapable feeling that this game is going to be, you know, that game.
FK: Bonus question - What has to happen for you to buy me a pair of the hoops warmup striped pants? Those things are sweet.
KR: Find a way to throw this game and we'll talk.