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Indiana football 2022 opponent preview: Western Kentucky

After sky-high offseason expectations turned into a 2-10 regular season campaign in 2021 for Indiana football, head coach Tom Allen and company are looking to get back on track in the 2022 season. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as the Hoosiers look to right the ship. Up next is Western Kentucky, who set NCAA passing records last season and lost 33-31 to Indiana.

  • Opponent: Western Kentucky
  • Date/Time/TV: Sat., Sept. 17, 12:00, BTN
  • Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
  • 2021 record/postseason result: 9-5 overall, 7-1 Conference USA, lost C-USA Championship Game 49-41 vs UTSA, won Boca Raton Bowl 59-38 vs Appalachian State.

Returning Starters, Offense (7): WR Daewood Davis, WR Dalvin Smith, WR Malachi Corley, T Britton Gunner, G Quantavious Leslie, C Rusty Staats, T Mark Goode, TE Joshua Simon.

Starters Lost, Offense (4): QB Bailey Zappe, RB Noah Whittington, WR Jerreth Sterns, G Boe Wilson.

Offensive Outlook: WKU’s air raid offense, orchestrated by then-offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, now at Texas Tech, and head coach Tyson Helton, was one of the top passing offenses in FBS history. The offense, led by quarterback Bailey Zappe and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns, who left Houston Baptist for WKU in 2021 alongside Kittley, averaged 43.1 points per game, the second-highest total in the nation behind Ohio State. Zappe set the NCAA single-season passing yards and touchdowns records with 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns on the year. Replacing Zappe under center is another transfer in former Bowling Green and West Virginia signal caller Jarret Doege, who made 13 starts for the Mountaineers and was named second-team All-Big 12 in 2020 by Pro Football Focus. Akron transfer Michael Mathison replaces Sterns at receiver, after catching 56 passes for 706 yards and three touchdowns for the Zips in 2021. With experienced players inbound to a WKU offense that was among the best in the nation last season, the Hilltoppers should be nearly as lethal as they were a season ago.

Returning Starters, Defense (10): DE Juwuan Jones, DT Darius Shipp, DT Brodric Martin, OLB JaQues Evans, ILB Will Ignont, ILB Jaden Hunter, CB Kahlef Hailassie, CB A.J. Brathwaite Jr., CB Dominique Bradshaw, NB Kaleb Oliver.

Starters Lost, Defense (1): S Omari Alexander.

Defensive Outlook: The Hilltoppers return 10 starters from a defense that allowed 29.4 points per game a season ago. The singular loss could prove to be difficult, however, in defensive back Omari Alexander, who made 29 tackles and three interceptions in 14 appearances last season, being named third-team All-C-USA by PFF in 2021 and a Burlsworth Trophy Nominee in 2020. WKU replaces him in the defensive backfield with transfers in former Wyoming safety Rome Weber, while former North Texas cornerback Upton Stout also joins the group out of the portal. Experience will be a major plus for a WKU unit that finished in the bottom 40 of FBS in points allowed last season, but with the team’s propensity to get into high-scoring games due to its offensive style of play, the defense could be on the field more often due to the number of possessions its opposition will have thanks to WKU’s fast-scoring offense. 

Returning Starters, Special Teams (3): P Tom Ellard, K  Brayden Narveson, LS Jake Bowman.

Starters Lost, Special Teams: None.

Special Teams Outlook: Just like Indiana’s James Evans, Western Kentucky boasts an Oceanic punter and ProKick Australia alum in Melbourne native Tom Ellard. Placekicker Brayden Narveson, an Iowa State transfer, was a two-time Conference USA Player of the Week in 2021 and was second-team All-C-USA after 23 of 29 kicks with a season-long of 53 yards.

Overall outlook: Western Kentucky was one of two wins for Indiana a season ago and the team’s lone win away from Memorial Stadium. The win only looked more impressive for IU as the season went on and the losses piled up for the Hoosiers while NCAA passing records were broken by the Hilltoppers. WKU’s offense, despite losing its two most important players in Zappe and Sterns, should be in good hands with the experienced Doege in command of an already elite unit. Defensively, there are serious questions, but if Indiana is to win this game for a second straight year, it may have to do so in a high-scoring shootout of a game.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”