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Friday, Feb. 23
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

COLUMN: What to look for in Indiana football’s season-opener against Illinois

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As you might have heard by now, Indiana football opens its season Friday evening against Big Ten opponent Illinois. With the Hoosiers entering the matchup with several question marks about their identity and Illinois already with a win under its belt in week zero, here’s what you should keep an eye out for when the game kicks off at 8 p.m. in Bloomington. 

Who’s under center for the Hoosiers

I’ve gone over this what seems like a million times, so I won’t ramble on about the subject. Indiana head coach Tom Allen said he’s chosen a quarterback, but he’s stayed silent about who won the position battle, so we won’t truly know until we see senior Jack Tuttle or junior Connor Bazelak jog onto the field. The anticipated starter-to-be will have his grand reveal when the Hoosiers get the ball.  

Illini run game versus Indiana’s front seven 

Illinois already played its season opener, defeating University of Wyoming 38-6 in week zero. A big part of that offensive explosion was the run game, especially junior running back Chase Brown. Brown went for 151 yards on 19 carries for two touchdowns, and the Illini had 260 rushing yards as a team. Indiana has a very experienced front seven, since every starter from the initial depth chart is a senior. Will 2022 NFL draftee Micah McFadden’s presence be missed? Or can the Hoosiers slow the Illini down in the trenches? 

[Related: Indiana football roundtable: IDS reporters make predictions for 2022 season]

Will Indiana make big plays, and who will be the primary playmaker? 

To keep it real, Indiana’s offense was abysmal in 2021. The Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten in touchdowns scored, average yards per play and average yards per game. Position changes will see new starting running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and potentially a new quarterback. Senior running back Shaun Shivers, a transfer from Auburn University, may be undersized but makes up for it in explosiveness, and if he breaks loose, he has the potential to wreak havoc. Before an injury last season, graduate student wide receiver D.J. Matthews was an electric kick and punt returner, and he has the speed to get by his defender for a deep ball if he can connect on a pass. There are several candidates for biggest playmaker this year — that is, if the offense can click.  

What kind of offense will Indiana run under new leadership? 

Piggybacking off the last topic, last season’s poor offensive performance led to the firing of offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan. Indiana hired Walt Bell in his stead, who has hopped around as a coordinator and quarterbacks coach before a three-season stint as University of Massachusetts head coach where he went 2-23 and was fired nine games into his third season. For what offense the Minutemen did produce, it was a healthy balance of pass and run. During Sheridan’s tenure, the Hoosiers favored the pass game when they could, so watch to see what kind of play-calling Bell depends on in his Indiana debut. 

There are plenty of other things to be on the lookout for, such as this game starting a season that potentially determines Tom Allen’s future at Indiana. The contest is one of Indiana’s most important season-openers in recent history, as the Hoosiers are desperate for a morale boost and host a game in which they are favored in. Let’s see if they capitalize on it.

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