Indiana will need all hands on deck Saturday if it wants to slow a Michigan State offense ranked No. 15 in the country and averaging 37 points per game.
The Hoosiers have been dealing with a number of injuries early in the season on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. Both starting safeties have missed time as have the top four cornerbacks.
The bye week appears to have placed IU in a position to have everyone back for the Spartans with the exception of backup corner Chris Keys, who was lost for the season.
All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen was a surprise late scratch at Penn State, although head coach Tom Allen said he was close to being cleared to play in that one. His fellow starting corner (and starting punt returner) Reese Taylor was injured during the Penn State game and did not return.
Because Allen made it sound like Mullen was a close call against the Nittany Lions, it would be a fairly significant surprise if he can’t go two weeks later. But Allen is at least giving the impression that there is still uncertainty as it relates to both Mullen and Taylor.
“Still working to get back,” Allen said of the cornerback duo on Thursday. “We don’t know about either of those guys yet and won’t know until game day.”
Mullen and Taylor, along with de facto third starting corner Jaylin Williams will all be needed to contend with Michigan State’s impressive trio of wide receivers Jalen Nailor (23 catches, 490 yards, 6 TDs), Jayden Reed (23 catches, 492 yards, 5 TDs) and Tre Mosley (20 catches, 309 yards).
Allen was more clear on starting safety Raheem Layne, who had an interception against Penn State before also leaving that contest with an undisclosed injury.
“I feel good about Raheem, he has been out there (practicing),” Allen said.
Lost in the shuffle to open the 2021 season has been senior defensive end James Head, Jr. The 6-foot-5, 262 pound Miami, Fla. product has yet to play this season but seemed to suggest in a social media post this might be the week he returns.
Allen was cryptic about Head’s status as well.
“Making lots of really good progress and really excited about where he’s at and looking forward to seeing him out there in the near future,” Allen said.
Head has started 20 games over the last two seasons and has registered four sacks over that span. IU has been starting Ryder Anderson at the traditional hand in the ground defensive end spot with redshirt senior Alfred Bryant starting at the stand-up hybrid end/outside linebacker bull position on the other end.
Head’s extended absence has been a surprise. His injury was originally described a short-term. He will likely rotate in behind Anderson.
All-American linebacker Micah McFadden also appeared to deal with an injury to his shoulder area during the Penn State game, but there is no indication that was anything serious and he is expected to play.
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