And so it begins.
Indiana football season No. 135 kicks off on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis as the Hoosiers take on Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Season opening contests have been good to IU in its recent history, as the Hoosiers have won 13 of their last 15 games to begin fall campaigns. One of the losses was eight years ago, when Indiana and Ball State played the first ever college game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Cardinals won that one 27-20.
For the first time since he arrived at IU in 2016, head coach Tom Allen will not serve as the defensive coordinator. In fact, the game will feature the debut of new coordinators on both sides of the football for Indiana.
Kalen DeBoer came to IU from Fresno State and replaces Mike DeBord. Kane Wommack has taken over for Allen as the new coordinator on the defensive end.
Ball State is experienced, returning 54 letter winners and 20 starters (including 17 position starters) from last year’s squad. The Cardinals veteran group should be able to test a younger but more talented Hoosier squad.
INDIANA (0-0) at BALL STATE (0-0)
- Kickoff: Noon Eastern Time
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000), Indianapolis, Indiana
- Television: CBS Sports Network
- Series: Indiana leads 6-3. IU won the last meeting 38-10 in 2018 at Bloomington.
- Odds: Indiana is a 17.5 point favorite
- Weather at kickoff: Indoors.
Tom Allen is 10-15 as he begins his third full season as the head coach at Indiana.
Mike Neu is 10-26 in his fourth season as Ball State head coach.
TALE OF THE TAPE (2018 STATS)
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TOM ALLEN PREVIEWS THE GAME
WHEN BALL STATE HAS THE FOOTBALL
Ball State has been a pass first attack under former quarterback Neu.
Drew Plitt wasn’t the starting quarterback at the beginning of 2018, but he played extensively. The Ohio native completed 65% of his passes but threw eight interceptions vs. just six touchdowns.
Plitt’s favorite target is likely to be senior wideout Riley Miller. He led BSU in receiving yards (878) and touchdowns
(7) in 2018, catching touchdown passes in seven of the season’s final eight games.
With uncertainty on IU’s defensive line and Ball State returning a veteran offensive group up front, one question will be whether IU can generate a pass rush. That is something that is a staple of Allen and Wommack’s 4-2-5 scheme. Allen was asked about that this week.
“You’ve got to (generate a pass rush),” Allen said. “We’re going to mix it up like we always do. Obviously we’ve got some new things that we haven’t shown yet that we’ve been working on all offseason, but the bottom line is that they’re going to throw the football.”
The Ball State running game also has Allen concerned based on the last two head-to-head contests.
“In my mind they ran the football and they shouldn’t have,” Allen said. “I’ve never left the game pleased with how we’ve defended them in that regard.”
Junior Ball State running back Caleb Huntley is a 5-foot-10, 226 pound load that should challenge the Hoosiers. He has 1,190 yards for his career with a 4.8 yards per carry average.
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE FOOTBALL
All eyes will be on new quarterback Michael Penix. Will he be nervous? Will there be rust after missing so much time with a knee injury?
Of course another big question relates to the particulars of DeBoer’s scheme.
Look for Indiana to try to impose their will early with the running game against the Cardinals to help Penix ease into his first start. Ball State was one of the worst teams in the country against the run in 2018, allowing nearly 240 yards per game. IU’s big and veteran offensive line should have an advantage in the trenches.
Hoosier running back Stevie Scott rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on a 6.3-yards per carry average against the Cardinals last season. Fellow freshman Ronnie Walker had 43 yards and a touchdown run as well.
One other thing that could help Penix in this one is the fact that Ball State’s secondary is its biggest question mark. Couple that with IU’s experienced wide receiving corp, and the Hoosiers’ new starting quarterback should be able to find open pass catchers down the field.
If Penix is accurate in his first game, Indiana’s ability to both run and pass should keep the Cardinals guessing and ultimately wear them down.
With a gauntlet of a schedule down the road, Allen isn’t going to allow his team to take this one lightly.
Indiana cannot afford to lose a game like this, but they have lost three of their last five meetings with the Cardinals.
This is the biggest game on Ball State’s schedule, and Allen has made sure that his team is aware of that.
“I know the history of that,” Allen said. “I’ve seen many, many MAC teams beat Big Ten teams. There’s no question that I’m going to talk about the mindset that this football team (Ball State) is going to have when they step on the field against us.”
Indiana is going to get Ball State’s best shot, and a close game at halftime wouldn’t be a big surprise.
In the end, Indiana’s superior depth and athleticism should prevail in this one.
BALL STATE 20
Notes: Ball State is the home team in this contest.
Ball State cornerback Isaac James is a graduate transfer from Indiana. He intercepted Cardinals quarterback Plitt on the final play of last year’s game in Bloomington.
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