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Indiana college football: Kellen Lewis pushes Hoosiers past Western Kentucky

Sunday, August 31, 2008 - 8:07 pm

Here's why Kellen Lewis is Indiana's starting quarterback and why the Hoosiers have a shot at not just making a second straight bowl game, but winning it.

Consider Saturday's opening quarter against Western Kentucky. IU faced first-and-10 on its own 25-yard line. Lewis took the snap out of the shotgun, ran past a wave of tacklers, got into the secondary, got past the secondary and completed a 75-yard touchdown run.

Then, to show it was no fluke, he did it again in the fourth quarter with a 62-yard TD run.

“Kellen made some plays,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “The one thing he does, when things break down, he has the ability to make something happen.”

Lewis finished with 185 yards rushing and 147 yards passing as the Hoosiers won 31-13 in their season opener. He ran for two touchdowns, threw for two more (including one to former North Side standout Demarlo Belcher). Along the way Lewis broke Antwaan Randle El's school record for career touchdown passes. Lewis now has 44 in just over two seasons. Randle El had 42 in four years.

Granted, Western Kentucky is no Penn State or Wisconsin. It's a NCAA Division I-AA program with disadvantages in scholarships and talent and speed. Still, Lewis' run-and-pass ability makes him a threat against every team IU plays.

Was he perfect? Not quite. His third-quarter interception deep in IU territory showed plenty of work remains.

“I'm still kicking myself about that,” he said about an hour after the game.

Yes, Lewis had to earn this opportunity after poor offseason decisions resulted in a four-month suspension. He spent preseason camp battling Ben Chappell for the starting job and in the end, to no one's surprise, he won it.

Chappell got in a few plays, completing 1-of-3 passes for 9 yards, but this is Lewis' team and everybody knows it.

“He's great,” Belcher said.

When Lewis wasn't punishing Western Kentucky, the Hoosiers' no-huddle attack was. It forced a pace the visitors couldn't sustain.

One of the benefactors was tailback Bryan Payton, a former Concordia Lutheran standout who rushed for 57 yards on nine carries. That included a 34-yard third-quarter run that set up Lewis' 5-yard TD pass to Belcher. It was the 6-5 freshman's first collegiate catch. It's also the first time a true IU freshman has caught a touchdown pass since Brandon Walker-Roby in 2005.

Still, if it wasn't for Payton being tackled on the Western Kentucky 6-yard line on that 34-yard run instead of making it into the end zone, it wouldn't have happened.

Does that mean Belcher owes Payton?

“I guess I'll have to make him buy me some dinner,” Payton said.