Hoosiers confident coming out of bye

Coming out of bye No. 1, there are four games to play until Indiana reaches off-week No. 2.

As long as the Hoosiers do what’s necessary in these next four contests, four more will follow the second break in the Big Ten schedule.

Three conference games. Plus a bowl.

“We’re not settling for ‘if’ we get a bowl game,” senior right guard Simon Stepaniak said. “We are looking at it as we have four games, break, and we have four more games. There is no hesitation in anyone’s mind about that.”

There may not be a more critical stretch for IU than what begins with homecoming on Saturday. Ranked Ohio State and Michigan State are in the rearview mirror. Challenges from top 25 foes Penn State and Michigan are set for after the second bye. Until then, the Hoosiers (3-2) have a chance to get the three wins they need for bowl eligibility against a combo of Rutgers (1-4), Maryland (3-2), Nebraska (4-2) and Northwestern (1-4).

The perennial underdogs find themselves in the odd position of being heavy favorites this week. When the oddsmakers set the line for IU-Rutgers, the Hoosiers were given a 25-point advantage, which reflects the chaos unfolding in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights’ head coach, fired. The team’s starting quarterback, sitting out the year. A running back and team captain, Raheem Blackshear, followed Art Sitkowski’s lead and shut it down for 2019.

Needless to say, the Hoosiers are in a much better position than Rutgers. IU lost in the final seconds to then-No. 25 MSU before heading into the bye. In that game, the Hoosiers absorbed the loss of senior left tackle Coy Cronk without incident. They also got their starting quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., onto the field following a two-game absence.

IU has had the added advantage of a week to rest and prepare. Even so, the Hoosiers can’t be overconfident.

“The challenge is you’ve got to be a mature football team to understand it’s a Big Ten opportunity for teams. Been in this league long enough to know those things are irrelevant,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “They’ve got a unique situation they’re in right now, but we have no control over that. And all we can control is how we prepare. And I know that we’re playing a Big Ten football team on Saturday. We’ll have to be at our very best. That’s the absolute truth.”

Allen hopes some of the work the Hoosiers undertook during the break will pay dividends.

The head coach and former defensive coordinator watched the Michigan State game three times — and took three different sets of notes — to help fortify that side of the ball with Kane Wommack, who assumed coordinating duties this season.

IU ranks ninth in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (23.6) and total defense (324.2 yards allowed per game).

“They play so hard and just gotta continue to execute better. That’s the key,” Allen said. “So we have to go through and ask some tough questions about why in those situations that we’re not. And that’s what we addressed and I continue to feel good about, even just today, things we’re working on in today’s practice.

“It’s kind of an off-growth of that conversation and those meetings.”

Heading into the off-week, Allen anticipated there would be ample time for injured players, such as defensive tackle Juan Harris and corner Reese Taylor, to get back into the mix. Their presence should help bolster the defense.

The bye also allowed Penix, who completed a school-record 20 straight passes in the MSU loss, more time to get right. When asked if he needs to continue to rehab the undisclosed injury that kept him out for two weeks, Penix spoke about tending to his shoulder.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I’m 100 percent, ready to play,” Penix said. “Every day, I’m always in the training room, even before, icing the shoulder, making sure everything’s good. You have to make sure your body is right.”

The good health of Penix should only strengthen the Hoosiers’ fortunes. A win over a struggling Rutgers squad would give them an even better feeling to start this four-game stretch.

But there would be folly in being overconfident. Stepaniak, in particular, said the Hoosiers couldn’t “buy into Vegas” when they were underdogs versus OSU. He won’t get caught up in what oddsmakers have to say this time around, either.

“If we don’t respect Rutgers, they are a Big Ten football team, they are going to come in here and kick our butt,” Stepaniak said. “We have to take them seriously, it’s a Big Ten team. Just buying in every week, respecting every opponent, that’s the way you are going to knock off teams.”

4 comments

  1. Defensively I would like to see coach Wommack stop trying gimmicks to stop teams. Against MSU he called some defenses with DL man dropping into coverage and a DB rushing the QB. He used DEs to man up against TE. I know there are different ways to run a defense but when struggling let players play to their strengths. Little pass rush, quit having our DEs attack the OT instead of lining up wide to rush. Posters criticized Ball on MSU’s TD but our DE was on the OT with an LB on the TE with a wing outside the TE. Ball was playing LB over the TE not having leverage on the edge. Put players used to playing on the edge in a position to stop and outside play. I know the TE wing formation puts defenses in a bind but you need to not put players in positions that don’t match their skill if you want to stop an offense IE move Ball outside the wing and read him to know if coverage or setting the edge is necessary. Maybe that was the plan but watching the replay of the game it was pretty clear that isn’t the way the defense was set up.

    t said the Rutgers game will won’t show anything and in some ways he is right but I do think it will show if the team is maturing enough to take the right approach to B1G games.

  2. I agree to the extent that IU has a lot to lose vs simply meeting expectations. If IU dominates = expectations = still not a predictor for upcoming games because quality of competition. If IU struggles (barely win or gets upset and that would be an upset which I don’t foresee) = same old story.

    Now, what is a few years ago under KW, Rutgers made a comeback that IU gifted Rutgers a win and resulted in IU loss. I don’t see this kind of thing happening or even Rutgers making it a close game. However, it still is IU football. Now, the next game regardless of Rutgers outcome Maryland game will remain a total mystery to me. At Maryland. At Nebraska. Home game Northwestern. All 3 games after Rutgers (provided IU beats Rutgers by at least 4 or 5 touchdowns) all 3 very winnable. If IU struggles with Rutgers then likelihood IU lose all 3 or at least 2 of the 3 would be more likely = no progress made in IU football. If Penix plays this greatly increases IU odds. It is time now to replace PR minutes with Tuttle minutes heading into second half of big ten season. This would increase upside for qb position. If Tuttle struggles in meaningful game minutes ( if that was the situation) thenPR could come in and try to work his magic. So V, I Agee that if IU struggles against Rutgers = bad sign making 2 or all 3 of the next games more likely losses. However, if IU dominates = IU meets expectations and raises IU chance against Maryland to an equal chance of win vs loss. Then, after Maryland game IU chance for win or loss will be adjusted accordingly for next game. And then the next game. These next 4 games is a game by game process = 4 win season upto a 6, 7, 8+? Win season.

  3. t, I want to see IU’s offense play as well as they did against MSU. We know the defense needs to get better but we need to find out if IU’s offense can maintain the level they played against MSU. Winning this Rutgers game would give IU a good shot at an important win against Maryland.

  4. If IU offense plays at high level against Rutgers it only proves that IU offense can play at high level against Rutgers. IU could score 40+ and look well against Rutgers and score 17 against Maryland. Looking at IU and others including Maryland (Syracuse and Penn State games vs Maryland) comparison games are many everywhere.

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