After an emotion-filled 2007 with the tragic death of head coach Terry
Hoeppner and the inspired run to a bowl game there was bound to be a
little bit of a letdown. But with so many returning players in so many
key positions, there wasn’t supposed to be much of a step back.
Indiana didn’t just regress last season; it went back to being the
doormat of the Big Ten with little to no improvement in almost all
areas. The pass rush was fantastic, but the big front seven got shoved
around by a soft breeze. The secondary got torched short, long, and
everywhere in between, PK Austin Starr, the Lou Groza-caliber star of
2007, was merely average, and the offense couldn’t seem to complete a
forward pass after losing WR James Hardy early to the NFL.
The vibe on the 2008 season just never felt right. Star QB Kellen
Lewis missed most of the offseason with academic/team issues, the
defense had injury problems, and the secondary had a hard time finding
the right corners to take over the open spots. This year, the team is
far different with depth, experience, and real, live talent in most of
the key positions. However, the team still has a long way to go to make
up the stagger with the rest of the Big Ten.
Indiana went 1-9
against FBS teams last year and was blown out in eight of them.
Minnesota and its suspect defense held the Hoosiers to seven points, and
Purdue went ballistic in a 62-10 season-ending win. Wisconsin ran for
over 400 yards, Ball State did whatever it wanted to do offensively, and
Iowa and Illinois beat IU by a combined score of 100-22 in back-to-back
weeks. Even so, if everyone is healthy, the potential is there for a
The defensive line, at least on the ends,
has the potential to be special with Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton
two NFL-caliber playmakers on the outside. The linebacking corps should
be the best the program has had in several years with Matt Mayberry a
star in the middle and Will Patterson, once he returns from a wrist
injury, a top playmaker on the outside.
The offense has several
very big, very talented young wide receivers who should instantly
upgrade the position. With Lewis moving to wideout, the position is so
loaded that last year’s leading receiver, Ray Fisher, will move to
corner. The offensive line has two good anchors in OT Rodger Saffold and
C Pete Saxon, and Darius Willis has all the makings of a franchise
No, it’s not time to book tickets to Pasadena even
with all the returning talent. There are still major problems in the
secondary, the O line has to prove it can pass protect for two plays in
a row, and Ben Chappell has to prove he can be a steady, productive
quarterback, but this is a good enough team to surprise and get back to
a bowl game.
What to watch for on offense: QB Ben
Chappell. The coaching staff wants to power the ball using more of the
Pistol offense that’s been so successful at Nevada. However, the option
of the team’s top running quarterback, Kellen Lewis, is gone after he
was dismissed from the team, and if he was on it, he was going to be a
receiver, anyway. Now it’s up to Chappell to be the man to lead the
offense, and he won’t have to look over his shoulder at Lewis. There
isn’t a thumper at running back, but if Indiana wants to be Nevada (who
finished third in the nation in rushing and fifth in total offense), it
has the speed backs to break off big runs. Chappell will have to make
things happen through the air on a consistent basis.
watch for on defense: The injury report. The defense will try to
incorporate some more Cover-2 schemes, but there’s one problem with
that: the defensive backs. The Cover-2 only works if the safeties are
fantastic, and Nick Polk and Austin Thomas are really good. However,
they’re both coming off ACL injuries and might not be 100% all year.
With WR Ray Fisher being used at one corner and Chris Adkins still
learning on the fly on the other side, the key to the season could be
the health of the safeties. Throw in LB Will Patterson’s wrist injury
and DT Deonte Mack’s hip, and the injury report will need to be
monitored all fall.
The team will be far better if … the
defense can find something it does well. Even with a ton of returning
experience and plenty of potential the defense was miserable in all
areas last season. The biggest issue was being physical up front. Teams
that could power the ball did it at will as games wore on, and spread
offenses were mostly able to do whatever they wanted to. The IU offense
will be better, but it won’t be good enough to win a lot of shootouts.
It’s not a plus when you’re considered the 11th best team in
a down year for the Big Ten, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good
opportunities for some key upsets. Forget about winning on the road at
Iowa or Penn State, but early in the year, IU’s experience will count
for something in the Big Ten opener at Michigan. Ohio State isn’t the
Ohio State of the last few seasons, but that’s still not going to an
upset possibility, even in Bloomington. However, Illinois, Wisconsin,
and Purdue are all winnable home games. The non-conference schedule
isn’t going to be as breezy as it appears. Eastern Kentucky is a win,
but Western Michigan will be one of the MAC’s best teams, going to Akron
isn’t a sure-thing, and going to Virginia won’t be easy.
Best Offensive Player:
Senior OT Rodger Saffold. It was going to be Kellen Lewis, but he’s gone
now. Saffold isn’t a special blocker, but he’s steady and solid as the
leader of a veteran front five. He could be the key to the offense early
on since he’ll be a primary pass protector for Chappell and the passing
game. It Saffold has a bad year, the line and the offense will struggle.
Best Defensive Player: Senior DEs Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew. Middleton was the star of the team two years ago with a
nation-leading 16 sacks, but he struggled last season to find the same
groove. He didn’t have the same burst and he had problems being the
marked man. All the attention paid to Middleton allowed Kirlew to
flourish on the other side. Both ends are big, quick, and bound for an
NFL camp near you very soon.
Key player to a successful season:
Chappell. If he flounders, Lewis won’t be there to fall back on anymore.
Chappell is a big, strong passer who got his feet wet over the last few
years and now has to make the offense more explosive. He has good
weapons around him and a nice line in front of him, and now he has to
The season will be a success if ... the Hoosiers go to a bowl. They’re not likely to be favored in any
of their final nine games of the year, but if they can win their first
three games, pull off a few upsets, and beat Purdue in the regular
season finale, they could go to their second post-season game in three
years. There’s way too much experience to expect anything less.
September 12 vs. Western Michigan. Indiana needs to prove early on that
it can win. Last year, Ball State came into Bloomington and won in a
blowout. This year, another MAC team, Western Michigan, has the
firepower to do the same thing. With a winnable game at Akron to follow
and a date with Eastern Kentucky to start the season, IU can be 3-0
going into the trip to Michigan if it can beat WMU.
2008 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Indiana 31 for 199 yards – Opponents 28 for 166 yards
Interception return average: Opponents 12.7 yards on 11 picks – Indiana
2.5 yards on six picks
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 8-of-11
(73%) – Indiana 6-of-23 (26%)