The Indiana Hoosiers were one of the shining stars of college football in 2020, but they have fallen back to earth in 2021 after losing every game they have had against ranked opponents. The team has clearly fallen well short of expectations this year. Still, there are many pieces from that 2020 season that led the Hoosiers to top 10 status for the first time in 50 years. Let’s evaluate the top players to watch in the Michigan Wolverines’ bout with the Hoosiers this Saturday.
Senior LB Micah McFadden
Micah McFadden isn’t just the best defensive player for the Hoosiers, he may very well be the top linebacker in the Big Ten. McFadden was named to the preseason Bednarik Award (nation’s best defensive player) and Butkus (nation’s top linebacker) Award watch lists prior to the 2021 season. This comes after a season where McFadden led the Big Ten in sacks with six in eight games last season. He was the first Indiana defensive player to lead the Big Ten in sacks since 2007.
McFadden is a big, physical linebacker who loves to get in the quarterback’s face. He has 13 quarterback hurries in eight games this season and 5.5 sacks to show for it. For a guy who mostly lines up in the second level, it’s incredibly impressive. Here is what the Big Ten Network had to say about him prior to the season:
"I watch this guy play the linebacker position, and it's absolutely amazing, because he is a human stat machine."@mcfadden_micah is a beast, and @RIP_JEP has the @IndianaFootball star at No. 1⃣3⃣ on the countdown. pic.twitter.com/Xf6nASSrNP— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) August 15, 2021
While the Hoosiers have taken a step back, McFadden’s level has stayed exactly the same in 2021 and the Wolverines’ offensive line is going to need to track him all day long if they want to keep Cade McNamara upright.
RS Senior TE Peyton Hendershot
Hendershot is one of the returning studs on this offense. After losing a couple of receivers from a season ago, Penix Jr. and other starters at Indiana have refound their favorite target from 2019 this season. He had 622 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 on 53 receptions that season. But the emergence of Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle last season saw Hendershot have a significant drop in targets. Even with just 23 receptions in the COVID-shortened season, Hendershot was still one of the top redzone targets in the Big Ten and was named to the John Mackey Award (nation’s best tight end) preseason watch list because of it.
Peyton Hendershot helps Indiana get to the painted grass first against #8 Cincinnati pic.twitter.com/WWcXXkBPig— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
With Philyor off to the NFL and Indiana quarterbacks having some issues with deep-ball accuracy, Hendershot has returned to his 2019 favor in the Indiana offense. He’s on pace for about 53 receptions again this season and already has 4 touchdowns under his belt. He’s had two 100-yard performances this season and has racked up 447 yards in the process.
Senior RB Stephen Carr
Indiana will likely lean heavily on its running backs with quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle not playing. True freshman Donovan McCulley had to start last week and will again this week for the Hoosiers.
With that being the case, Carr took plenty of touches (22) last week with their quarterback issues. He made a lot out of it with 150 total yards, 123 yards on the ground. It was the third time this season he surpassed 100 yards on the ground. It’s not just what he can do on the ground, though, as he had eight receptions against Michigan State.
Without a trustworthy guy under center, Indiana will try and get Carr as involved as possible. Obviously, there is a gap in talent between Carr and Kenneth Walker III, but Michigan’s run defense will have to shore up more than they did last week or they could be in trouble of giving up some yardage again this week to a talented back.