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Game Day Prediction: Indiana Can't Afford Offensive Droughts Against Western Kentucky

Indiana football welcomes the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to Bloomington on Saturday for a Noon ET kickoff. The Hoosiers are 2-0, but staying undefeated will require a far more consistent performance in Week 3.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana coach Tom Allen will never take a win for granted.

He went without one for 341 days during a 2021 season where nothing went right and an offseason of significant change and uncertainty. It was clear how much he cherished singing the fight song after what he called a 'massive' win over Illinois in the 2022 season opener, but just as clear was his frustration walking off the rain-soaked turf after beating Idaho.

"Always appreciative for a win. I know they're hard to get," Allen said after Indiana's 35-22 win over Idaho. "You look around the country, there are some pretty disappointed fan bases tonight. But at the same time, that's not acceptable in my mind as far as the standard with which we have to play."

Two weeks into the 2022 season, Indiana has won as many games as it did all of last season. The Hoosiers overcame struggles to find ways to win their first two games, and that's what matters most as Week 3 approaches. 

Western Kentucky arrives in Bloomington with one of the top offenses in college football in recent years. In 2021, Western Kentucky scored 44.2 points per game, which ranked second in the FBS behind Ohio State. The Hilltoppers' 433.7 passing yards per game ranked first in the nation, and they finished second in total offense.

Despite the departure of quarterback Bailey Zappe to the NFL, coach Tyson Helton brought in West Florida transfer Austin Reed to run the offense. Reed won the Division II national championship as West Florida's quarterback in 2019, and he's led the Hilltoppers to 87 combined points in his first two games. 

Heading into this matchup with Western Kentucky, the Hoosiers will need a far more consistent performance in order to see '3-0' next to their names come Saturday night.

Take the Illinois game for example. After taking a six-point lead with 22 seconds remaining in the first half, Indiana was held scoreless during the entire third quarter and didn't score until Shaun Shivers' game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That's almost an entire half of football against a Big Ten opponent resulting in zero points. 

That was the case against Idaho the following week, too. As rain poured down on Memorial Stadium, the Hoosiers' offense punted twice, fumbled, threw an interception, missed a field goal and turned the ball over on downs, leading to a scoreless first half and a 10-point halftime deficit against Idaho. When it dried off in the second half, quarterback Connor Bazelak and the Indiana offense dominated, generating 247 yards of offense in a 23-point third quarter.

In short, Indiana won its first game despite 29-plus minutes with zero points and its second despite a first-half shutout. 

But what do the first two games say about Indiana's defense being able to overcome the offensive droughts? What about the team's belief and ability to play through adversity? A whole lot, in my mind.

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There's no doubt that Indiana is a flawed team through two games. But there is something to be said about what a team can gain from two wins where the result was in question. 

"Obviously everyone wants to see 50 points in the first half," Bazelak said after the Idaho game. "But I think sometimes you look at the good side, the good part of it. Being shut out in the first half forced us to all come together and score [23] points in the third quarter. Just shows you that we were able to come together and face the adversity. That's a huge part of the game and gonna be good experience for down the road."

Indiana has been able to withstand offensive inconsistencies to win its first two games, but that can't happen on Saturday against Western Kentucky. If similar ups and downs occur on Saturday, the big-play Western Kentucky offense is dangerous enough to leave the Hoosiers in the dust.

"Looking for consistency," Allen said of his expectations for Indiana's offense. "Looking for a strong first quarter start, to be able to play at a high level right out of the gate and to be able to execute for four quarters."

And on the other side of the ball, an experienced Western Kentucky defense currently leads the FBS with five turnovers per game. Nevada leads the nation with 11 total takeaways in three games, but Western Kentucky's 10 leads all schools that have played twice. 

"They play really aggressive on defense," Allen said. "Have a lot of athletes that do a tremendous job. Very well-coached defensively. Cause a lot of takeaways, a lot of disruption."

My prediction

Saturday's game presents a real challenge for Indiana, perhaps its toughest of the season despite being favored by seven points. Helton's offensive system is built to score on anyone, and the defense has taken the ball away at an elite level this year.

The same is surely true for Western Kentucky, whose most-recent opponent, Hawaii, is considered the third-worst team in the FBS, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. The step up in competition on Saturday could be a shock at first, allowing Indiana to start strong, which it failed to do against Idaho.

Indiana's defense won't be able to completely limit Reed and the Hilltoppers, but I think the Hoosiers capitalize on a late turnover. Bazelak has show poise through two games, imparting confidence and belief from his teammates to execute down the stretch.

In a back-and-forth contest, I predict Indiana wins this one 30-27.

  • HOW TO WATCH: Indiana football hosts the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday in a Week 3 matchup that will kickoff at Noon ET. Here's how to watch, with game time and TV information, the latest on the point spread and three things to see from Indiana. CLICK HERE
  • INDIANA WEEK 3 DEPTH CHART: Indiana football (2-0) will host the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2-0) on Saturday at Noon ET at Memorial Stadium. Here is Indiana's Week 3 depth chart. CLICK HERE
  • MEET THE WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS: Indiana football hosts the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in a Week 3 matchup on Saturday at Noon ET at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won last year's game 33-31, and both teams enter this season's contest with a 2-0 record. CLICK HERE
  • WKU COACH TYSON HELTON TALKS INDIANA: Western Kentucky is off to a 2-0 start to the season with wins over Austin Peay and Hawaii. After a highly-contested game against Indiana in 2021, Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton shared his thoughts on the Hoosiers on Monday. CLICK HERE