Once again, Indiana faces stomp-the-opponent football necessity. Bowl aspirations demand impressive non-conference results and the trip to Western Kentucky needs to end in a rout.
That this will not be easy doesn’t diminish the importance. If IU can’t bury a team that has lost 22 straight games, even though it is on the road, it likely will not handle rapidly approaching Big Ten challenges.
Figure Indiana to have some rust after a 16-day layoff. The Hilltoppers are well-tested after trips to Nebraska and Kentucky in consecutive weeks. They are pumped and primed for a home game against a Big Ten opponent, something that has never happened before. It’s a big moment for them, and they likely will play accordingly.
No matter. IU needs to roll and it starts, as you knew it would, with defense. Western Kentucky has a talented running back in Bobby Rainey and a solid offensive line that has blasted holes against a sturdy Nebraska unit.
The Hoosiers have to stuff the run and force the Hilltoppers to pass. Yeah, every defense wants to do that, but it’s an especially good idea given that passing is not a Western Kentucky strength (quarterback Kawaun Jakes averages just 108.5 yards a game).
Jakes doesn’t have many weapons to work with. Sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez leads with four catches for 63 yards (a 15.8-yard average) and a touchdown.
Indiana, even with a new secondary, picked off three passes in its season-opening win over Towson. Cornerback Matt Ernest returned one interception 56 yards for a touchdown. Safety Mitchell Evans and linebacker Tyler Replogle also had interceptions.
The Hoosiers should thrive against a vulnerable Western Kentucky defense that has given up 49 and 63 points the last two weeks. The Hilltoppers allow 261.5 passing yards and 247.5 rushing yards.
It should be a chance for quarterback Ben Chappell to put up big numbers, for freshly healed receiver Tandon Doss to show why he’s one of the Big Ten’s best, and for tailback Darius Willis to get a nice follow-up to his 102-yard season-opening total.
The unit that should really come up big is the offensive line. It needs to overpower the smaller Hilltoppers, whose biggest defensive lineman is backup nose tackle Rammell Lewis (286 pounds).
Indiana’s starting offensive line goes 306 pounds, 305, 293, 317 and 331.
After this comes Akron, and then the start of Big Ten play with a formidable 1-2 punch of No. 20 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State.
If the Hoosiers expect to handle that stretch, they’d better handle Western Kentucky.