Two weeks down, and two wins are in the books for the Hoosiers. Just as important, though, is the fact that no one on the roster has been hit with a significant injury that will sideline them for an extended period of time. Who are the players IU can least afford to lose? HoosierNation.com has the answer…
Bloomington – Ben Chappell played like he practiced Saturday.
With IU comfortably ahead in the third quarter against Murray State, the Hoosiers’ second-string quarterback entered and completed 6-of-7 passes and led the offense on two scoring drives. A third march would have ended with points as well if Chappell hadn’t mercifully taken a knee in the closing seconds of a 19-play drive.
So did Chappell’s performance provide a degree of comfort for the IU staff about his readiness to take over the offense if pressed into duty? Absolutely. Did his performance take Lewis off HoosierNation.com’s list of the five players IU can least afford to lose this season?
Not a chance.
Despite Chappell’s performance, Lewis remains the most important player on either side of the ball for the Hoosiers’ success this fall. So who are our five players IU can’t afford to lose? Here’s our updated list two weeks into the season…
1. Kellen Lewis, QB – In week one he rushes for 185 yards to lead IU to a 31-13 win over Western Kentucky. In week two he rushes only once (for -2 yards), but completes 15-of-21 throws for 170 yards and spreads the ball around to seven different receivers. The Hoosiers’ schedule is about to get much more difficult, and Lewis is the great equalizer – he can make plays with his ability to run it or throw it, and he can elude the Big Ten’s best rushers and turn negative plays into big gainers. He might not have been a preseason All-Big Ten choice, but there isn’t a more valuable player to any team in the Big Ten. Losing him would be a crushing blow to the Hoosiers’ hopes of a special season.
2. Rodger Saffold, LT – Saffold’s value was cemented during a fall scrimmage when Hoosier defensive end Greg Middleton recorded three sacks with Saffold standing on the sidelines with a back ailment. While the Hoosiers feel like they are developing some quality depth along the offensive line, Saffold is the one that they can least afford to lose. He’s athletic enough to neutralize some of the Big Ten’s best defensive ends, and he’s added 15-20 pounds in the off-season that makes him better able to open holes in the ground game. Saffold’s back-up, Andrew McDonald, has climbed the depth chart rapidly and appears to have a bright future, but losing Saffold would be a huge blow.
3. Will Patterson, OLB – Early on, Patterson wasn’t the defender that I thought IU could least-afford to lose. But those thoughts have changed after a couple of games. First of all, quality depth on the defensive line and in the secondary has eased some concerns if either Chris Phillips or Greg Middleton goes down with an injury. Neither situation would be good, but the IU staff would have others to turn to in their place. There is also quality depth at linebacker, but Patterson’s big-play ability is critical to the unit’s success. He was the second-leading tackler a year ago and has nine through two games this season. Equally important is the leadership he brings to the defense. His selection as one of the team’s tri-captains is evidence of how important his teammates think he is to the team.
4. Chris Phillips, CB – The early-season play of Chris Adkins and Richard Council have dropped Phillips down a couple of spots on our list, but he’s still a critical component to IU’s success. He’s still the most experienced corner, and the younger covermen will lean on him for counsel as the Big Ten slate arrives. Indiana will have to find a way to slow down quality Big Ten wideouts such as Arrellious Benn (Illinois), Eric Decker (Minnesota) and Mark Dell (Michigan State), and Phillips will be the choice to match up with those players.
5. Greg Middleton, DE – Indiana already had to make do without Middleton for the season opener, and IU still totaled three sacks in his absence. All of those sacks came from defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Ryan Marando, two players who have proven to be very effective pass rushers in their own right. With that said, Middleton remains the type of difference maker that IU doesn’t want to be without once Big Ten play opens in a couple of weeks. He’s the most physically imposing of all of IU’s defensive ends, and he did lead the nation in sacks a year ago.
Austin Starr, PK – He is as good a kicker as there is in the country and is now also getting 50 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone.
Nick Polk, FS – The junior safety is looking like he’s going to be one of the defense’s biggest playmakers in the first two weeks, totaling 12 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and one pass broken up.
Pete Saxon, LG – Another third-year starter on the offensive line, the absence of Saffold and Saxon made a noticeable difference during fall camp.
Ray Fisher, WR/PR – He’s the biggest playmaker among the stable of wideouts, and the most reliable punt returner. IU hasn’t had a pass play of more than 25 yards this year, and Fisher is someone who can change that by taking a short pass and turning it into a big gainer.
Greg Brown, DT – He’s the anchor of IU’s defensive tackle rotation, and he’s been highly-productive in the first two games with nine tackles and one tackle for loss.
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