The Hoosiers host their first game of the season against Indiana State and it should be a good one. IU is coming into the season with a lot of expectations and a lot to prove. The best way to ease the tension of high expectations and high uncertainty is for Indiana to come out and blow away the Sycamores. Let's take a look at what Indiana State offers to try and keep that from happening.
It would wrong to assess an Indiana State team we saw just last year without addressing the biggest change for them. They lost head coach Trent Miles and brought in Mike Sanford. Sanford was the head coach at UNLV for four years from 2005-2009 and was Gary Andersen's offensive mind at Utah State before being brought in to continue the rise of the Terre Haute team. Sanford, a little less um, fiery?, than Miles will likely bring a more calm cool and collected demeanor to the Sycamores, which will likely reflect on the field. I would expect more methodic, draw out drives, than the swinging for the fences type that we saw in last year's game.
The biggest threat that Indiana State has to offer is running back Shakir Bell. I think one can make a pretty good argument that he's one of the best running backs we'll see all year. Due to his small stature he never really received serious looks from the big guys on the recruiting trail in high school, but he's blossomed into a stud. If he had a second punch to go along with him, he likely wouldn't fall apart at the end of seasons like he has in the past. Unfortunately for Indiana we get him when he's fresh and chomping at the bit.
With quick lateral movement as well as north to south speed he can burn through any secondary when he gets to the next level. Bell proved that last year by gashing us for 194 yards. ISU is expected to throw to him more as well to try and get the ball to him with space. The Hoosiers have got to be able to read those options quickly or it could be a long night of chasing Bell all over the field.
Speaking of throwing the ball, Indiana State is in a somewhat similar position as the Hoosiers. As far as I'm aware, they still have not selected a starting quarterback either. Mike Perish was their starter last year and despite his inconsistencies was expected to hold onto that spot. However, redshirt freshmen Robert Tonyan Jr. has made a push to take that starting spot. I sat in on two separate Indiana State practices last year and Tonyan stood out to me as the best option even last year. He appeared to have the best arm of the group and was dropping them right into the basket of the receivers with consistency. However, he did appear to have a bit of Carson Palmer in him in that he's the best quarterback at throwing into triple coverage. As for now, it looks like we'll see the biggest dose of Perish at QB, while Tonyan will get his minutes as well. If Indiana State's QBs can't find the relatively average receivers with any consistency they'll be one dimensional pretty quickly. It's much easier to stop the run when you know it's coming.
Despite Indiana State's question marks on offense there are probably even bigger holes to fill on defense. At least, the offense is returning most of their guys from last year, they're just still unproven talents. On defense the Trees are trying to replace a linebacking corps that appeared to be the heart and soul of the team in practice. Big, quick and imposing, all of them are gone and it's new guys filling the spot. Indiana State is also trying to replace Larry King, their starting safety, from a knee injury and an All-American cornerback from 2012. Indiana State's defense is in a similar place to Indiana. Depending on how underclassmen can perform in an urgent situation, things could go pleasantly well, or they could be sitting in the first row of the struggle bus by week 3.
Overall, I just think Indiana has too much proven on offense for the Sycamores defense and the improving Hoosiers defense will be able to contain a one dimensional ISU offense. I was talking to an office mate of mine yesterday who graduated from Indiana State and he told me not to write his guys off, but I may end up doing just that. Indiana State will be quality for an FCS team, but running up a bigger, faster and stronger BCS/Big Ten team in Indiana is just going to be too much. The Hoosiers will give a notably better performance than last year on their way to a 34-17 victory.