Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Indiana enters a critical non-conference game to close out their three-game home stand against Western Kentucky. It is vital for the Hoosiers' bowl hopes to win this game and start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2010 before hitting the road for a game against Wake Forest. So without further adieu here are the five keys to a Hoosier victory on Saturday.
1. Put Pressure on Brandon Doughty
When given time in the pocket Hilltopper quarterback Brandon Doughty will pick apart any secondary in the country. He's that good. In order to give the young Hoosier secondary a break, the front seven will have to get in the face of the sixth year signal caller. Having defensive linemen Darius Latham and Ralph Green back last week against FIU proved to be the missing link in the Hoosiers getting pressure on the quarterback as they combined for six tackles, one for a loss and three passes batted down.
Getting in the face of Doughty may be the only way to help out this young secondary, who have had trouble guarding the pass, amidst a few flashes of brilliance, in the first two weeks.
2. Run The Ball
The strength of the Indiana offense lies up front with the offensive line and in the running game spearheaded by Jordan Howard who leads the Big Ten in rushing through two games. This is not a call for head coach Kevin Wilson and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns to play conservatively and "not to lose". It would be sending a message to the opponent that 'we are here to run the ball down your throat and you can't stop it.' The run will also help open the play action pass game and allow Nate Sudfeld to pick apart the weak Hilltopper defensive backfield. Running the ball will also allow the IU defense to catch its breath and get coaching adjustments on the sideline.
3. Red Zone Efficiency
The Hoosiers are facing one of the best offenses that they'll face all season on Saturday and faltering in the red zone and settling for field goals in not the way to win this game. Last week IU was a perfect 5-5 in red zone scoring, but two of those scores came on field goals.
4. Limit Towner in the Return Game
Kylen Towner is as an explosive kick return as I have seen in the last few years. He has four returns this season for 177 yards. He long is a 98-yard touchdown return in week 2. Towner is also great at returning punts, averaging 12.3 yards a return. The Hoosier kick coverage units will have to be on high alert when kicking the ball in Towner’s direction, because he is a game changer.
Erich Toth has not been able to flip the field as much as the need needs him to, so directional punts with plenty of hang time will be vital if the coverage unit wants to hold Towner in check. Kicker Griffin Oakes needs to continue to blast kickoffs deep into the end zone for touchbacks.
5. Play the Next Play
Western Kentucky's offense is going to hit on a big play or two. Or three. But it is important that the young Hoosier defenders can shake it off and win the next play. IU did a terrific job of this last week, when the secondary was torched early then came back to make several outstanding plays down the stretch.