If you ask IU head football coach Bill Lynch if the Hoosiers are feeling any sense of urgency, he will tell you no.
That is, he believes his team should have a sense of urgency every week, and there isn't any one game that is more important than the next. Of course, the Hoosiers have yet to play with a sense of urgency in any of their games, which doesn't exactly instill confidence in the IU fan base as Northwestern heads to town this week.
Indiana sits at 4-3 following last week's debacle vs. Illinois, and IU's path to a bowl is getting a bit tougher. The Hoosiers still face three "winnable" games for the program -- this week vs. Northwestern, a Nov. 20 tilt vs. Penn State and the annual Old Oaken Bucket game vs. an inconsistent Purdue squad. That said, IU has its work cut out for it. Northwestern was ranked earlier this season and is coming off a tough loss to Michigan State, the Penn State game is at a neutral site in Maryland (the Hoosiers have never beaten the Nittany Lions in their history), and the Purdue game is in West Lafayette. Although Indiana has enjoyed some success vs. Northwestern in recent years, winning in 2008 and nearly scoring a victory in Evanston last year, IU as a whole has struggled in Big Ten competition. Lynch is just 5-22 in Big Ten play since taking over as head coach in 2007, and IU has won just two of its last 17 conference games.
In other words, a sense of urgency definitely should be in order.
One of the knocks on Lynch during his tenure at IU is that he doesn't really inspire his troops. Team captains Ben Chappell and Tyler Replogle are both quality players, but they aren't vocal leaders on the field and aren't going to fire up their teammates either. Indiana was flat on the field vs. Illinois and has shown a lot of fire in just one game -- vs. Michigan -- this season. With games dwindling and the Hoosiers still two wins short of the magic bowl-eligibility number of six, IU will need to play with passion and energy this week to avoid a complete collapse.
The efforts to get the team focused will start in practice, and it will be a test of Lynch's leadership to get his team ready to avenge last year's loss on the road and push IU closer to a bowl.
--The last six IU games vs. Northwestern have been decided by one score. In fact, the last six battles between the two clubs have been decided by a total of 23 points.
--IU head coach Bill Lynch is looking for his 100th career victory. He is currently 99-93-3 in 18 years as a head coach.
--QB Ben Chappell is 32 completions away from becoming IU's all-time leader in that category.
SERIES HISTORY: Northwestern leads 43-34-1.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Indiana's offense had been one of the Hoosiers' strengths this season, but uncharacteristic turnovers were an issue vs. Illinois. Indiana loves to throw the football and will focus on regaining some confidence by completing some short passes early. IU's offensive line has improved and is doing a solid job of protecting QB Ben Chappell, but the Hoosiers need to do a better job of running the football to keep some balance in the offense. RB Antonio Banks has shown promise, as has senior Trea Burgess.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hoosiers' defense showed some improvement vs. Illinois and may be starting to jell as a unit. Indiana replaced seven starters from last year's squad, and it has taken some time for the trust to build among the players. Indiana will look to drop defenders into coverage and hope to do a better job of tightening up the zones in the secondary. The Hoosiers hope to force Northwestern into a running game to take advantage of the defensive tackles in the middle of the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This sounds real cliche, but it really is the truth. It's the next game. We take real pride in being consistent in how we approach things. From the Towson game all the way to Purdue, it's the next game. Our routine and how we prepare and all that, I think if you all of sudden make one game bigger than the other then you lose credibility with our players. Last week you said this, and this week you said this. There must be a consistent approach." -- Indiana head coach Bill Lynch on how he would like to see the Hoosiers get Illinois out of its comfort zone.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Indiana, Oct. 30 -- Indiana (4-3 overall, 0-3 in the Big Ten) faces a must-win situation whether the Hoosier coaching staff acknowledges it or not. IU has played Northwestern tough in recent years and should be riding a two-game winning streak over the Wildcats. Indiana, however, choked on a 25-point lead on the road last year, but the Hoosiers believe they can play with NU. IU has a tendency to play to the level of its opponents, so that belief could be critical.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Indiana must get off the field on third down defensively, and the offense has to avoid the crippling turnovers that destroyed the Hoosiers last week. IU needs to strike early to get the crowd into the game, and Indiana's defensive ends must put pressure on NU QB Dan Persa to throw him out of his comfort zone. The Hoosier linebackers also must do a good job of helping support the run and can't get lost when Persa leaves the pocket.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Jeff Thomas -- Thomas continues to develop as an FBS linebacker, and he is becoming more of a leader on the field. He has to have an impact for the Hoosiers to win.
QB Ben Chappell -- Chappell had been stellar this season prior to last week, but he made bad decisions with the ball and can't afford to do the same thing vs. Northwestern.
SS Mitchell Evans -- Evans has a nose for the ball in the passing game, but he has to play under control when he's looking to make a tackle. He can't allow himself to get beat down the field vs. a Northwestern passing attack that looks to stretch opposing zones.
--ORT James Brewer is day to day with an ankle injury, but he could return for the Northwestern game.
--QB Ben Chappell is sore, but he isn't expected to miss any time with the aches and pains. Chappell doesn't have an actual injury. He simply has been beaten up over the past couple of weeks.
--FS Chris Adkins and CB Richard Council are both a couple of weeks away from returning to the field. Adkins has missed the first seven games with a broken ankle, and Council has been missing time with a knee injury.
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