Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
When Western Kentucky announced last December that senior quarterback Brandon Doughty had been a granted a sixth-year waiver, you could almost hear the audible groan coming from Bloomington. One of the most prolific passers in NCAA history was set on a collision course with the Hoosiers for a week three match up.
Indiana fans and writers alike circled the game as what many believed to be the team's first real competition of the 2015 season. I even wrote in my Western Kentucky game preview back in June that"...it will be the first time in the 2015 season that the Hoosiers will face a true test. Don't get me wrong, Southern Illinois and Florida International both present challenges in their own right, but neither should be in the game when crunch times rolls around."
While I was right that both of the Hoosiers first two opponents would present challenges, just gloss over the part where I say neither team should still be within striking distance during the waning moments of the game. I digress, now 2-0, the Hoosiers are gearing up to face their stiffest competition, at least offensively, so far this season.
So what's it going to take to come out victorious? In addition to getting the ground game going, the continued improvement by the defense is key. Surprise, right? And luckily for the Hoosiers, standout sophomore linebacker Tegray Scales will be back on the field, after serving a two-game suspension.
But is his return enough to tip the scales in favor of the Cream and Crimson?
The native of Cincinnati is arguably the Hoosiers top defensive player, as physically and athletically gifted as anyone on the team. As a freshman he recorded 46 tackles, with two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. It's the plays in the backfield and interceptions that this Hoosier team, for the most part, has been missing.
TJ Simmons, Marcus Oliver and the rest of the linebacking corps have both played well during Scales' absence. In fact, Oliver was named the team's defensive player of the week against Florida International with seven tackles and a fumble recovery.
So not to take anything away from any of them, but adding a dynamic play-maker like Scales to the mix will certainly improve the odds of this team coming out on top. Scales' ability to drop back in coverage whilst being able to disrupt plays before they even get started could be the difference for this team come Saturday afternoon.
Saturday is going to take a whole team effort on the defensive side of the ball, 11 players working harmoniously to slow down the Doughty led offense. The big guys upfront need to get some pressure on the immobile quarterback, the secondary needs to continue its improvement in coverage and making open-field tackles, and the linebackers will need do whatever is asked of them, whether it be to come on a blitz or to cover one of the many talented Hilltoppers' wide receivers.
While Scales is just one player, his return to the gridiron could be the ingredient the Hoosiers defense has been missing the first two weeks.