You’ll have to forgive Western Kentucky and Indiana for feeling a little out of place as they convene Saturday in Bloomington. Both sit at 2-0, the first time the Hilltoppers have reached that point in 10 years. Though the Hoosiers have reached the plateau more recently, it has been five seasons since they made it to 3-0. Both teams have the chance to gather some momentum as they head into next week’s final non-conference meetings.
Western Kentucky backed up its season-opening surprise win over Vanderbilt by earning a thrilling 41-38 win over Louisiana Tech that featured an offensive explosion emanating from both sidelines. The Hoosiers have beaten Southern Illinois and FIU, but neither game has been as easy as the opposition’s pedigree might lead one to believe they should have been.
Western Kentucky at Indiana
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Indiana -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Spread ‘Em
Both teams employ spread attacks — with fine results. The Hilltoppers piled up 590 yards against the Bulldogs, while Indiana has averaged 517.0 yards/game in its two wins.
"(Western Kentucky) is kind of like us in a lot of ways,” Indiana linebacker Marcus Oliver said. “They play a lot like our offense. It's just exciting to finally be able to go out there and play against a team that's going to spread the ball out and try to run it outside and try to trick you with their eyes — do what we do on offense, basically."
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, star running back Leon Allen, who gained 1,542 yards and scored 13 times last year, tore his ACL against Louisiana Tech and is out for the rest of the season.
2. Close Shaves
Both teams have had little margin for error so far. The Hilltoppers have won their games by a combined five points, and Indiana has had to overcome second-half deficits in both triumphs.
“We understand our two wins are by two points and three points,” Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm said. “It could have easily gone the other way. We did a lot of small things well in those two games in order to win, and we’re going to have to keep doing them.”
3. Potent Passers
Both Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld have had strong starts. Doughty, who received a sixth year of eligibility this season, will take aim at an Indiana secondary that has allowed enemy passers to complete 60.8 percent of their throws and amass seven TDs. Sudfeld has thrown for 583 yards so far and has a pair of dangerous targets in Ricky Jones and Simmie Cobbs.
This is a tremendous opportunity for both teams to take a bold step forward. The Hilltoppers have already established themselves atop the C-USA pile with their win over Louisiana Tech (although November 27 meeting with Marshall will be huge), while Indiana is working toward bowl eligibility and needs this win to get closer to the six wins necessary to achieve that.
Expect plenty of yards and points as both teams work their spread attacks and create a variety of scoring opportunities. Even without Allen, the Hilltoppers are dangerous, mostly because of Doughty’s arm. It’s not a huge upset, but Western Kentucky prevails in a crazy one.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 37, Indiana 35
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.