BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana isn't going to see a quarterback all year who's any better than Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. He's a top-five passer, and a surefire top-40 NFL draft pick for sure.
Ridder, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound dual threat from Louisville, Ky., is in his fourth year as a starter and he's always thrown for nearly 7,500 yards in his career. He has plenty of weapons on the outside too with the No. 8-ranked Bearcats, so it's a good thing for the Hoosiers that cornerback Jaylin Williams will be back in the lineup on Saturday.
Williams, who starts at corner along with Tiawan Mullen, was injured in the season opener at Iowa, and he missed all of last week's 56-14 win against Idaho. But he's a full-go in practice this week, and will be ready to play when the game kicks off at Noon ET before a sell-out crowd at Memorial Stadium.
It's likely that Williams, Mullen and Reese Taylor will all see a lot of snaps against the Bearcats' high-flying offense, which has scored 91 points in two weeks against Miami of Ohio and Murray State, rolling up 933 yards in the process. They love to throw the ball, and Ridder is deadly accurate.
Indiana's secondary has been snake-bit so far this season. Aside from Williams missing time, safey Devon Matthews also got hurt at Iowa and probably won't be ready for another week or two, and sophomore Chris Keys, who played for Williams against Idaho, tore his ACL and he is out for the year.
"That's just part of going through the season, so.getting Jaylin back will be big for us,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "We've just got to continue to develop our younger guys. That's where it's going to be big, and we're hoping to get (Ole Miss transfer) Jonathan Haynes back in the mix this week as well. That will help us ,too.
"Yeah, every year it seems like a certain position has a little more challenges than others, and that seems to be our spot for this year. But guys are working really, really hard back there.''
That group will be tested on Saturday, without question.
"Obviously, their role is going to be huge this weekend because our secondary is going to be tested by a very, very talented receiver core and really elite quarterback,'' Allen said. "So I just expect them to play a little better this week than we did last week. That's the whole key, getting better every week. And I know they will because our guys are really, really motivated, and wee've got a great staff.''
Indiana defensive coordinator Charlton Warren might be new to the Hoosiers, but he knows all about the Hoosiers' depth, and he has full faith and confidence in Indiana's bench players.
"We have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. We rotate guys all the time, and they've done that for the past couple of years,'' Warren said. "Even the backups, they've played a lot of football for us and we really have three starters at corner spot to begin with.
"I think we have some flexibility in that group, and getting guys back this week will help. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys compete. I think those guys are ready to go.''
If there's one level of Indiana's defensive that can handle a few injuries, it's the secondary because there's more depth there than anyone can remember in Bloomington. Josh Sanguinetti came in for Matthews at safety and played well, though he had a sure interception slip through his hands. But he's a veteran, and he didn't miss a beat.
Neither did Keys last week before he got hurt. That ''next man up'' philosophy runs strong in the secondary.
"When you're on the field, then you're a one,'' Indiana cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. "The next guy's up when a guy goes down. We're handling it real well.''
They'll need to against Ridder, who's an accurate passer — 72.3 percent on the year with six touchdowns and just one interception. He's also an excellent runner, which puts added pressure on a defense.
"In regards to Desmond, he's a special player,'' Allen said. "The thing about it, he's a long guy, 6-4, and he's big, like 215-plus pounds. He runs a lot, and he runs really, really effectively. And as we all know, that puts challenges on a defense when a quarterback can do that. He's stayed healthy, even though he runs the ball a lot. That's a tough thing to do at this level.
"His passing just keeps getting better and better. You go back and watch in years past, which we've done. We spend a lot of time studying over the summer as well, and you look at his previous years and you can see his growth as a quarterback. He really throws the ball down the field with a lot of accuracy now., and he has a really talented receiver corps. He's definitely a future NFL guy. When you have that kind of guy leading your team, that's a very, very good formula for a lot of success.''
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