Bloomington – It didn’t take Kellen Lewis long to show why he’s back under center with the IU football team.
Lewis scored on a pair of 60-yard plus runs and broke IU’s career touchdown passing mark with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Ray Fisher in the second quarter to lead the Hoosiers (1-0) to a season-opening 31-13 win over Western Kentucky (0-1) Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Back on the field after a fourth-month, off-season suspension and a three-week quarterback competition with Ben Chappell, Lewis finished the afternoon with 329 total yards, completing 17-of-27 throws for 144 yards while rushing for another 185 yards and two more scores on nine carries. It marked the third time in his career that he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark, and he became the first IU player in more than 40 years to score on runs of more than 60 yards in a game.
“One of the things that happens with him in preseason, we don’t tackle a whole lot (in fall camp),” IU Coach Bill Lynch said. “People can come to our scrimmages or practices and you blow the whistle after four years and he’s down.
“When you have to tackle him, it’s a different game.”
Indiana opened a comfortable 17-0 halftime lead behind a 75-yard Lewis touchdown run and then the touchdown pass to Fisher. Any chance of a Western Kentucky comeback ended in the third quarter when three Hilltopper trips inside the IU 10 resulted in two short field goals, a fumble at IU one-yard line, and no touchdowns.
The first of those was set up by perhaps Lewis’ only mistake on the day, when he was intercepted Trent Calhoun at the IU 33. On the very next play, Western Kentucky tried to take advantage when quarterback K.J. Black connected with Jake Gaebler on a throw, but Nick Polk forced a fumble and Will Patterson fell on the ball at the IU one-yard line to end the threat.
Indiana eventually put the game away with a fourth scoring drive to end the third quarter. Bryan Payton set IU up deep inside WKU territory by breaking a couple of tackles on a 34-yard run down to the Hilltopper six, and Lewis then threw his second touchdown pass of the day, a five-yarder in the corner of the end zone to true freshman Demarlo Belcher that put IU up 24-6.
It was the first reception on the day for the 6’5” Belcher, who was the only true freshman to play Saturday. It was also a play that looked mighty similar to those Lewis hoisted to another Ft. Wayne product, James Hardy, for the last two seasons.
“We’re not going to go there yet,” Lynch said about the comparisons between Belcher and Hardy. “But he’s a good young football player.”
Payton, meanwhile, was the most effective of IU’s trio of tailbacks. The Ft. Wayne junior ran for 57 yards on nine carries, while both Demetrius McCray (8 carries, 30 carries) and Marcus Thigpen (8 carries, 18 yards) struggled against the Hilltopper defense.
Lewis’ top target was junior Andrew Means who had six catches for 63 yards. Terrance Turner added four receptions for 38 yards, while Ray Fisher added five catches for 16 yards and a score before leaving the game with a shoulder injury.
After the Lewis-to-Belcher touchdown had opened the IU lead to 24-6, Western Kentucky answered with its only touchdown of the afternoon on a 32-yard pass from Black to Gaebler that cut the margin to 24-13. But Lewis then struck again, this time on a 62-yard on another option keeper.
Defensively, Indiana limited Western Kentucky to 282 yards, including only 62 on the ground. While the Hoosiers were forced to play without defensive end Greg Middleton and three others who were out due to suspension, Jammie Kirlew filled the void with a pair of sacks, while linebacker Will Patterson added seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.