EKU hopes to celebrate at IU Thursday

Eastern Kentucky, celebrating its 100th football season, kicks off its 2009 schedule Thursday night at Indiana.

While a century is a noteworthy milestone, it won't affect Thursday's outcome.

However, this anniversary could. EKU will be opening its second season under Coach Dean Hood.

First year out of the box, Hood's Colonels lost three of their first four games. They looked sluggish. The coach was concerned about morale.

But EKU recovered to win seven in a row, securing a record 20th Ohio Valley Conference title, a record-tying 19th Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) playoff berth and a 31st consecutive winning season.

Hood says the 2009 Colonels have reported "in great shape." He says that has helped limit nagging pre-season injuries and enabled the staff to "concentrate on things that matter rather than getting them in shape."

Practices have been at a faster pace than a year ago simply by "being in the schemes for the second year and, also, just understanding how the philosophy and the culture and all that stuff is," Hood said, "rather than have to walk on eggshells and try to get them to buy in. They were already bought in."

Indiana is the first Big Ten foe the Colonels have faced.

The Hoosiers, 3-9 last year, have won seven of their last eight home openers and 24 of 27.

"They're everything that you think of when you think about Big Ten football," Hood said. "They're big, they're physical, they're a smash-mouth type of football team. And they've made a conscious effort to be even more like that."

Hood noted that Indiana has changed its offense from a "gun" to a "pistol."

Hoosiers quarterback Ben Chappell most often will line up 4 yards behind center, with his running backs another 3 or 4 yards back. That gives the running back the ball deeper in the backfield, the intent being to give the runner better "downhill" angles, and also to increase the effectiveness of play-action.

Bill Lynch, in his third year as coach of the Hoosiers, said Tuesday that he plans to use his top four running backs: Demetrius McCray, Darius Willis, Trea Burgess and Bryan Payton.

They should benefit from an improved offensive line.

"I think we really developed there and we have much more depth than we've had in the past," Lynch said.

Indiana's depth at receiver is sufficient enough that Ray Fisher, one of 14 Hoosiers ever with 100 career catches and 1,000 receiving yards, has moved to cornerback.

Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton both are on the "watch list" for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. Their 36.5 career combined sacks is the best tandem total in the country.

Eastern, the pre-season pick to win the OVC, features three senior all-conference selections in offensive lineman Derek Hardman (35 consecutive starts), running back C.J. Walker (706 rush yards last year) and defensive lineman Chris Hall (six sacks and 13 tackles for a loss last season).

Cody Watts, a wide receiver (five TDs) and backup quarterback last year, makes the move to full-time QB.

The Colonels have not beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) team since a 45-21 romp at Louisville in 1985. They haven't won a season opener since 2000 or a non-conference road game since 2002.

But EKU plans to do what Appalachian State did at Michigan in 2007 — win (34-32).

"That (game) is what everybody points to. ... Everybody wants to have that opportunity to be the next big story," Hood said.

Now, the Colonels get their chance.