December 30, 2007

Scouting the Hoosiers

TEMPE, Ariz. - When most Oklahoma State fans think of Indiana, images of Bob Knight or Kelvin Sampson likely pop up.

And while the state of Indiana likes to think of itself as the center of the college basketball universe, they also have some decent football being played as well. Aside from the success that the Purdue Boilermakers have had over the past dozen years or so, the Hoosier program has been improving steadily the last few years, just missing out on bowl eligibility last season before reaching that plateau for the first time in 14 years this season.

So what is there to know about IU football in 2007? Plenty, as you're about to find out. The overwhelming story with this team this season is being able to have a winning season and reach success after the death of former head coach Terry Hoeppner over the summer. His offensive coordinator, Bill Lynch was elevated to the position and in his first year leading the Hoosiers guided them to a winning season and bowl appearance, two things that Hoeppner had goals of doing at IU. With the motto for the season "Play 13," the Hoosiers are doing just that against the Cowboys.

So what exactly does IU bring to the game? Is this contest going to be an old west shootout? Which side has a better chance at making stands on defense? Find out below.

Bloomington, Ind., about 50 miles south/southwest of Indianapolis
2007 Record: 7-5 (3-5 Big 10)
Last game: Win, 27-24 against Purdue
Game time: 5 p.m. Central Time at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (TV: NFL Network)
Current ranking: N/A
Fact of the week: IU's indoor practice facility is named after famous musician John Mellencamp. He gave the school $6 million toward the project, which is used by the football, baseball, soccer and field hockey throughout the year. Mellencamp's family has a handful of IU alums and he lives in the Bloomington area. The facility is 100,000 square feet and was completed in 1996.

… the Hoosier offense:
It's a pretty fun unit to watch. OSU fans have been spoiled with the Pokes' offense the last couple of years, but the Hoosiers will bring plenty of excitement to the table as well, though their stats don't compare well to OSU's. Overall, the total offensive output for the Hoosiers ranked 63rd nationally, or about 393 yards per game. The rushing unit ranks 54th (155 ypg) while the passing game finished the regular season ranked 49th (237 ypg). Even with those numbers not as high as the Cowboys', IU still has some playmakers on offense. Quarterback Kellen Lewis makes the unit go. He completed 60 percent of his passes this season and threw for 2,839 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also had 10 interceptions. On the ground, he rushed for 653 yards and eight scores, with a 4.8 yards per carry average. The sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., broke school records left and right, as his passing yardage, total offense (3,492) and touchdown total set new marks for IU. That offensive total was the 10th best in the history of the Big Ten Conference. His name target is wide receiver James Hardy, who is basically their Adarius Bowman. The 6-7, 220-pound junior out of Ft. Wayne, Ind., had a big season as well, grabbing 74 passes for 1,075 yards and 16 scores. He set school records as well, in both total receptions and touchdown receptions. Their leading rusher is Lewis, with their next biggest running threat being Marcus Thigpen, who rushed for 512 yards (4.0 ypc), but zero scores. After Lewis' eight ground scores, Brian Payton (338 yards, 4.1 ypc) comes closest with four touchdown scores on the ground.
… the Hoosier defense: This unit isn't the best, but the numbers suggest they're just under middle-of-the-pack for major college football. In total defense this season, the Hoosiers ranked 68th, allowing 394 yards an outing. They allowed an average of 26 points a game (58th) and 155 ypg on the ground (61st), while ranking 76th nationally in pass defense (238 ypg). Most of their defensive numbers are in that range, with the lone exception being sacks. They're tied for third nationally in that area, posting an average of 3.5 sacks a game. That largely has to do with the play of defensive end Greg Middleton, who has 16 sacks on the season. Yes, 15. He had six multi-sack games this season, including a career-best 2.5 sacks against Iowa. There are a couple of other players with decent sack amounts, including Ryan Marando (5.0), Jammie Kirlew (4.5), but Middleton is the most dangerous defender on the team and Zac Robinson will need to keep the No. 92 at the front of his thoughts.
… the coach: What a tough situation for a guy to come into. Following the death of Hoeppner, Lynch was named the school's 27th head coach after acting as the interim coach during Hoeppner's battle with cancer. But he was able to rally the Hoosiers after the passing of Hoeppner, leading them to their first bowl appearance since the 1994 Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl. He has a bright and upbeat personality and has helped continue the goals that Hoeppner wanted to reach, which were to become a winning program and make the post-season the norm, not the exception.

While many connected with OSU seem to not have a lot of interest in this game, the IU folks are pretty excited about bowling for the first time since the early 90s. That is going to be one of the main storylines of the game. Will the Cowboys be up for this game? Will the Hoosiers come in too hyped and perform poorly as a result? Will the IU players be too emotionally drained after reaching the goal of playing 13 games to win in Tempe? All valid questions. The other major storyline is going to be the offensive production of both teams. While the OSU stats are superior, Lewis and Hardy might be able to carve up a Cowboy defense which has had issues all season long. On the same token, OSU has a top 10 offense nationally and could have a big day against the IU defense. So does that mean it's going to come down to a battle of defenses to see who can make enough stops to get their offense a chance to win late? Quite possibly. In fact, that's what I see happening: a high-scoring game that won't be decided until well into the second half. The IU players have talked all week about how happy they are just to be here. That usually translates to getting nervous and making mistakes when it counts. While OSU isn't exactly a bowl-bound norm, they have much more experience than IU does. Look for a 45-35 win by the Pokes and a Happy New Year for all those in orange.

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