IU Insider Blog: The Next Step

I have three questions to consider in today's IU Insider Blog regarding Indiana football and its quest to go 2-0 in conference play. Read on and see if you agree with my conclusions.

There's nothing in IU's football history to make Indiana fans believe the Hoosiers will go on the road Saturday and knock off Michigan State.

It's just not what IU fans have come to expect from their team.

In the last 22 Big Ten road games, Indiana is 2-20. One of those wins was last year at Illinois, 31-17. The other came at Purdue in Bill Lynch's final game as the IU coach when the Hoosiers pulled out a 34-31 overtime win.

In those last 22 games, IU has traveled up to Michigan State twice. In 2007, IU lost 52-27. Two years ago, the Hoosiers got throttled 55-3 in Kevin Wilson's first season at IU.

So now IU plays its first road game of the 2013 season, six weeks into the schedule, and gets the Spartans in the conference road opener.

So why should Indiana fans believe that Saturday afternoon in East Lansing will be any different than Indiana football has fared on the road in recent seasons?

I think it comes down to a few basic questions.

1. What team will show up at Spartan Stadium for the Hoosiers? Will it be the one that couldn't get out of their own way against Navy and Missouri, or the one that looked impressive against both Bowling Green and Penn State?

2. How will the offensive line perform against one of the best defenses in the nation, at least statistically speaking?

3. Can Indiana score enough points to win?

Myself, I expect Indiana to be respectable. The players have talked so much this week about how the team needs to learn to deal with success and not get too high after a big win to make me pretty confident that IU is at least getting that message from its coaching staff. And I think that's a critical step in the right direction.

The Penn State victory was big. But if it turns out to be one of only a couple of Big Ten wins than its significance is severely damaged. If I were to guess I would say that there's a better chance that the Indiana team that played last week shows up again this week rather than say the one that played Missouri.

As for question No. 2, I think the offensive line is a big key in this one. Nate Sudfeld needs time to operate in the backfield. He can't be on the run. He needs time to go through his reads and progressions. If he gets that, I like IU's receivers against most teams. If he doesn't though, this one could get ugly quickly.

And with the third question, the initial answer is what will that number have to be? If it's 30, I think Indiana could get there even against a great Michigan State defense that is giving up just over 200 yards per game. If it's 40 though, I don't necessarily see it. Indiana has been explosive but playing in a hostile environment for the first time this year against one of the best defenses in the nation will not be an easy task.

What the win over Penn State did for IU was make the Michigan State game less of a must-win contest. But I still think that at the very least IU needs to come back and be competitive this week. The Hoosiers need to fill like they can play with competition like Penn State and Michigan State. If that happens, it will help this team considerably later on when it faces Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue at the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium.

If you asked me for my prediction right now, I'd still go with Michigan State simply because Indiana has yet to prove it can win this kind of game on the road.

Now if IU finds a way to win this one, move to 2-0 in Big Ten play heading to Michigan the following week, all of a sudden there will be a lot of people around the country talking about IU football again.

That hasn't happened in a long, long time.

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch

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