Aug. 26, 2009
By Larry Watts
Who could blame head coach Bill Lynch if he thought the Indiana University medical staff was spending more time on the field in 2008 than some of his starters? Seventeen Hoosier starters missed a total of 42 starts last year. Three members of the secondary went down with ACL injuries and seven different combinations started on the offensive line during the final seven games.
One year removed from playing in the Insight Bowl, the Hoosiers' first bowl appearance since 1993, Indiana fell to a 3-9 record and a Big Ten basement finish of 1-7. But Lynch enters his third season with 16 returning starters, nine on defense, and a new offense with hopes 2008 was just a temporary setback.
OFFENSE: Junior Ben Chappell gets the call to lead Indiana's new pistol offense. Chappell got three starts last year, leading the Hoosiers to a 21-19 upset of Northwestern, while sharing time with Kellen Lewis, who was dismissed from the team following spring drills. A pocket passer, Chappell, who was 80 of 153 for 1,001 yards in 2008, fits perfectly into the pistol framework, which stresses more of a downhill attack from the shotgun rather than the side to side of the spread. Bryan Payton (79 carries, 339 yards), a powerful senior, held the edge over shifty Demetrius McCray at running back coming out of the spring, but Lynch is high on redshirt freshman Darius Willis, who he calls "a special player." Top returning receiver Ray Fisher (42 catches, 373 yards), a senior, has been switched to cornerback, leaving junior Terrance Turner (29 catches, 289 yards) as the lone returning starter in the receiving corps. Sophomores Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss, giving Chappell three targets 6-foot-3 or bigger, will join Turner. Belcher (337) and Doss (186) combined for 523 receiving yards as true freshmen. If healthy, a veteran offensive, led by seniors Rodger Saffold (LT) and Pete Saxon (RG), will be handling Chappell's protection. With the emergence of redshirt freshman Will Matte at center during the spring, Saxon will be able to move back to his natural position. Senior Troy Wagner (TE), juniors Mike Stark and Cody Faulkner (coming off a foot injury) and sophomore Justin Pagan round out the other returning starters on the line, but keep an eye on junior James Brewer. The 6-8, 339-pound Brewer didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school but was a dominant force during spring drills.
DEFENSE: Indiana is expecting a drastic improvement in its defense, which yielded 35 points per game, including six games of 42 points or more. Seniors Jammie Kerlew and Greg Middleton are regarded as one of the best pair of defensive ends in the Big Ten. Kerlew was the team MVP in 2008 and a first-team all-conference pick by the media after posting 19.5 tackles for loss (third in the Big Ten and sixth nationally). After a first-team All-Big Ten season in 2007, when he led the nation with 16 sacks, Middleton dropped off during his junior year with four sacks and five tackles for loss. His 20 career sacks rank fourth in Hoosier history. Junior Deonte Mack, a returning starter, and redshirt freshman Mick Mentzer are expected to play inside Kerlew and Middleton. In his first year as a starter, senior Matt Mayberry (MLB) led the Hoosiers with 89 tackles. Three-year starter Will Patterson and Tyler Replogle will flank Mayberry. Fisher will join fifth-year seniors Austin Thomas (SS) and Nick Polk (FS) in a veteran Hoosier secondary. Both Thomas and Polk are coming off ACL surgeries. Junior Jerimy Finch (FS), a transfer from Florida, also figures to see a lot of time on the field. Sophomores Donnell Jones and Chris Adkins, a returning starter, are battling for the other corner slot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The graduation of three-year starter Austin Starr leaves the Hoosiers with a big shoe to fill in placekicking and kickoffs. Starr was fourth all time in Indiana history with 43 field goals. True freshman Mitch Ewald, who was the No. 3-ranked kicked in the nation, appears to have a leg up on the competition. Chris Hagerup, whose 42.4-yard average last season ranked third nationally among all freshmen, will again handle the punting. He received second-team Freshman All-America accolades.
MISCELLANEOUS: Not only will the Sept. 3 home opener with Eastern Kentucky mark the first Thursday night game in Memorial Stadium history, but it also marks the unveiling of the 138,000 square-foot North End Zone Facility. The new facility, which creates a horseshoe effect in the stadium, houses the strength and conditioning center at field level and will serve as the home of the football program and administration offices. It also features what is believed to be the largest weight room in the country ... Despite patching together a different offensive line for each of the final seven games in 2008, the Hoosiers still managed to amass over 2,000 yards (2,003) rushing for the second straight season. It marked the first time Indiana had accomplished the feat in back-to-back seasons since 2000-01 ... The home opener with Eastern Kentucky and the Oct. 10 trip to Virginia mark the first meetings between the schools.