HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE OF THE DAY, Nov. 8, 2012
Potential ramifications abound for Indiana’s football program with Saturday’s Leaders Division showdown against Wisconsin.
A win would certainly benefit IU’s program in myriad ways. Even just a highly-competitive game would probably help a bit, given Wisconsin flat-out embarrassed the Hoosiers in the series’ previous two outings by an aggregate 142-27 margin. The Badgers are favored by a touchdown this time.
But regardless of Saturday’s outcome, whether or not wins then ensue at Penn State and at Purdue to keep Hoosier bowl hopes alive, Indiana has already accomplished what was arguably the most important task facing it heading into the season.
The Hoosiers had to show fans, potential recruits and themselves that coach Kevin Wilson’s approach could and would work in Bloomington after Wilson debuted with a 1-11 campaign in 2011.
Done and done. They have ably demonstrated not only that Wilson’s nascent building project is viable but packed with potential, that it constitutes culture change for the long haul that could produce winning big-boy football.
There are all sorts of ways this is manifest, not least of which is the bottom line. IU stands 4-5 but could very readily be over .500, having outscored the opposition 298-260, even having lost its starting quarterback in the second quarter of the second game. The Hoosiers have either led or been within one score in the fourth quarter of every game they’ve lost.
Wilson came to Bloomington with a reputation as an offensive guru, but Hoosier fans have been heartened this season by overt progress from the long-maligned defense.
Omitting the two interceptions returned for opposition touchdowns, one at Navy and another last week by Iowa, Indiana’s defense has now given up just 24, 17 and 14 points in the three successive weeks. It’s accurate to say defense helped key the Hoosiers’ first two-game Big Ten winning streak since 2007.
When was the last time Indiana scored fewer than 25 points and won before last Saturday’s 24-21 victory over Iowa? Over three years ago (a 23-19 decision over Western Michigan on Sept. 12, 2009).
Even while IU defenders haven’t always made the play this fall, they were generally in position to make it, and they have permitted foes far fewer big plays. Last season, IU’s defense surrendered 70 plays of at least 20 yards. This season, with three games left, it has allowed 36.
Wisconsin enters Saturday’s fray off a bye week with a revamped multiple offense coordinated by former IU assistant Matt Canada and featuring a new starting quarterback in Curt Phillips (in place of the injured Joel Stave), but the Badger bread-and-butter is still a ground game buoyed by a big offensive line and great backs such as Montee Ball and James White.
But while IU was susceptible against spread offenses featuring running quarterbacks earlier this season, the Hoosier defense has proven pretty stout against more conventional rushing attacks of the sort Wisconsin has traditionally favored. The Hoosiers held Michigan State standout LaVeon Bell to just 3.3 yards per carry, for example, the same meager mark managed by Iowa’s Damon Bullock last week.
Wilson has described his team as an average one that is getting better day-by-day, and that’s a fair assessment. But he’s also made it clear that he likes the team and appreciates its approach. And it’s pretty clear to everybody, now, that this Indiana team will play hard. And it will usually play well.
And Indiana remains one of the youngest aggregations in the FBS.
So if the Hoosiers stay competitive with, or beat, the Badgers, that augurs well for both the immediate future and beyond.
And the season has already provided ample evidence of progress.
Indiana might actually clear a path to the Big Ten title game if it wins Saturday. A win would also get it within a game of potential bowl eligibility.
But these Hoosiers have already posted perhaps their biggest victory this season, winning over hearts and minds that needed convincing, including their own.