Who: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Indiana Hoosiers
When: Saturday September 19, 2015 4:00 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana
How to Watch: ESSN/IU Radio
Bloomington, IN – Another week and another win for the Hoosiers. Indiana heads in to week three of the season at 2-0 and is off to the right start to push towards their first bowl game since 2007. Say what you will about Indiana’s schedule thus far, but 2-0 and still 2-0 and only two other teams in the Big Ten have the right to proclaim that triumph as well: Ohio State and Michigan State.
This upcoming week will be a great test to see if the team can gain consistency on both sides of the ball particularly defensively, and gain momentum going in to the game against Wake Forest. It’s not crazy to think that Indiana can be 4-0 heading in to Big Ten play with the offense poised and ready to do some damage to the Buckeye defense in early October.
Looking first at the Hilltoppers: Western Kentucky has a solid team with definite talent, but still lacks something to really grab one’s attention. They are 2-0 for the first time since 2005 but came out with two narrow victories over Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech 14-12 and 41-38 respectively. Their offense stepped up tremendously against Louisiana Tech however, rushing for 149 yards and passing for 441 yards compared to just 37 yards rushing and 209 yards passing against Vanderbilt. The difference maker for this game will undoubtedly be the absence of Hilltopper RB Leon Allen who was lost for the season against LTU with a knee injury. Should the Hoosier defense step up as they did against FIU, it could be a long day for any Hilltopper coming out of the backfield.
Now, on to the Hoosiers. Indiana needs a solid start from QB Nate Sudfeld and that is an absolute necessity. Two weeks in a row the Hoosier starter has been relatively unimpressive given his accolades and previous performances coming in to the season. Without a stud throwing the ball for the Hoosiers and commanding the offense, the Big Ten season begins to look more and more difficult. Where Indiana has been fantastic this season is rushing the ball though. The triumvirate of Jordan Howard, Devine Redding, and Nate Sudfeld ran all over both FIU and SIU and need to perform similarly against WKU to boost the offensive firepower.
Key Players to Watch This Week:
QB Nate Sudfeld – I said it last week and I’ll say it again, I still expect big things from Sudfeld. He has under performed thus far but he has shown time and time again in the past that he gives Indiana the best chance to win in all facets. Expect that completion percentage to get over 60% this week and the decisions to improve as he works further into the progressions.
WR Mitchell Paige – The Indianapolis product has seen the field more than ever this season and is getting his chance to become a much bigger part of the offense. Expect Paige to get a few more targets and use his quickness to help IU move the ball down field a lot this week.
DL Nick Mangieri – The IU defense sealed the deal last week against FIU and Mangieri has been a centerpiece of the defensive line thus far this season. With 14 tackles and two sacks in the first two games, look for Mangieri to keep the trend going this week against the Hilltoppers.
With WKU’s loss of Leon Allen and the progression of Indiana through the first two weeks, this is a very winnable game. The Hoosiers could see 3-0 heading in to Winston-Salem next Saturday against a Demon Deacon team that just lost to a dismal Syracuse squad. It is by no means out of the question for IU to see 4-0 when the #1 team in the nation comes to Bloomington. It hasn’t been pretty, but as I said before 2-0 is still 2-0. Hoosier fans, can you smell the roses yet? Well…Not quite, but its a good start.
Indiana plays Western Kentucky University on Saturday, September 19th, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana at 4pm ET.
Sam Konkel is the Indiana University beat writer for Indiana Sports Report. You can follow Indiana Sports Report on Twitter @IndySportsRep.