BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — We've reached that point on the calendar where there nights are literally perfect. Summer is officially over and fall is here, and we have a perfect small-town setting for Indiana's football game at Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
The quaint 23,00-seat Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green is basically sold out for the second-ever appearance here by the Hoosiers. And they're making a big deal out of having a Big Ten team here. They're doing a "Black-Out'' game, and the Hilltoppers are wearing all black uniforms and their very-cool chrome helmets.
Quick digression: I really wish Indiana would wear their chrome candy-stripe helmets at least once every year.
It's going to be a perfect night here. The game is late, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the sun will have set by then. The forecast is for clear skies and a game-time temperature of 63 degrees.
So there are no weather excuses at all for the Hoosiers, who are 1-2 and desperately need a win tonight. Sure, they've played the toughest schedule in the country so far, and they are the only team to lose to TWO teams currently ranked in the top-eight. But that's past tense, too, and now all that matters is tonight's game against a Western Kentucky team.
It is, quite frankly, a must-win situation.
The Hoosiers are 9-point favorites today according to the SISportsbook.com website, and they should win. But they really haven't played well so far, and a handful of national experts have called them September's most disappointing team thus far. That might be a reach, but their lackluster play — highlighted by 10 turnovers by the offense, six interceptions and four fumbles — has had fans jumping off the bandwagon in a hurry,.
And now comes Western, a team that leads the nation in passing, averaging 456.5 yards per game in their 1-1 start, a 59-21 win over Tennessee-Martin and a 38-35 loss to Army. Even considering the level of competition, that has to be a concern.
It is to many, who are jumping on Western Kentucky as a great super-dog pick this week.
Me? Sorry, but I'm not seeing that at all.
Sure, I'm a glass-half-full guy, especially when it comes to this Indiana football team, but I think we're going to see their best performance of the year on Saturday night. I'll dispense with the pick early, and give you three VERY SOLID reasons why the Hoosiers win easily tonight.
My pick? Indiana 44, Western Kentucky 27.
Here's why. Even though the Hilltoppers have some impressive skill people, Indiana has a big advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball. And I'm a firm believer that the big dudes will win this game for Indiana.
First off, on the offensive side of the ball. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., hasn't gotten comfortable yet through three games, and has six interceptions already, a career high. What's the easiest way to fix that? By running the ball well and making easier throws. Then, when the play-action pass can open up big plays, hit them.
I see Indiana rushing for more than 200 yards for sure, and that's not really much of a reach. They had 179 against Idaho and 152 last week against a very good Cincinnati defense. Call it 225 on the ground.
And that's going to set up a lot of play-action passing, with quicker, safer throws for Penix early. Rack yards — run after catch — could be big here, too. I can see that happening with both D.J. Matthews and tight end Peyton Hendershot — Penix's two favorite targets so far — and I think this will finally be Ty Fryfogle's breakout game.
He was really upset with himself for those three drops last week. I can see him going over 100 yards for sure Saturday night, and he might break a long one, too. Indiana passes for 300 yards minimum as well.
Defensively, the guys in the trenches are going to change this game, too. Zappe, a transfer to Western after starting three years at Houston Baptist, has been able to rack up all those yards — plus 10 touchdown passes — because he's had plenty of time to throw. That's not going to happen Saturday night. Indiana defensive end Ryder Anderson has been really good so far, and he's definitely the Hoosiers' defensive MVP through three games.
He'll get a couple sacks Saturday night, and Zappe will make a few more mistakes under heavy pressure. Look for Indiana's standout cornberbacks — Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Reece Taylor — to finally get an interception or two. They're stuck at zero through three games,
Sure, Indiana has been a disappointment thus far, but I do feel good about them playing well on Saturday night. I don't know what that will mean going forward, but for one beautiful fall night under the lights, I think the Hoosiers put on an impressive show against Western Kentucky.
Related stories on Indiana football
- HOW TO WATCH: There's a new network broadcasting Indiana's game on Saturday night, so here are all the details on how to watch the game, with game time, TV information, the latest on the point spread, and nuggets galore. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN POINT SPREADS: Here's the latest with the point spreads on all of the Big Ten games this week. We have three conference showdowns and a big nonconference tilt between Wisconsin and Notre Dame in Chicago. CLICK HERE
- 3 THINGS TO SEE: Indiana looks to get back to .500 on Saturday night at Western Kentucky, and Sports Illustrated Indiana publisher breaks down three things he really wants to see from the Hoosiers. CLICK HERE
- RECEIVERS NEED TO STEP UP: Sure, Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. has been struggling with turnovers, but Indiana's receivers have dropped a lot of balls, too. They know they need to be better, to help out their quarterback and get this offense rolling. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA O-LINE MOVING IN RIGHT DIRECTION: With everyone back along the offensive line, consistency still remains the big key for Indiana in that position group. CLICK HERE
- WHAT MICHAEL PENIX HAD TO SAY TUESDAY NIGHT: Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. faced the music on Tuesday night, answering questions for 30 minutes on the Sports Illustrated Indiana podcast Mike & Micah at Yogi's Bar & Grill in Bloomington. CLICK HERE
- GAME TIME SET FOR PENN STATE: Indiana will take on No. 6 Penn State under the lights at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 2. The game will start at 7:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ABC. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS: Indiana tumbles in the conference rankings, but how far did they go? Tom Brew ranks the league, No. 1 through No. 14. CLICK HERE