BLOOMINGTON-It was almost college football's feel good story of the day, and one that wasn't going to feel very good to Coach Terry Hoeppner and the Hoosiers.
Nicholls State, a Thibodaux, Louisiana-based I-AA team whose season was in jeopardy a week ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, battled to the final gun before falling to Indiana, 35-31, in front of 27,600 fans at IU's Memorial Stadium. Indiana improved to 2-0, while Nicholls State is now 0-1.
It wasn't until IU cornerback Leslie Majors batted down a last-second, Yale Vannoy pass in the end zone that the Hoosiers had finally put an end to the Colonels' upset bid.
Nicholls State nearly pulled off the shocker thanks to a triple option rushing attack that gave the Hoosier defense fits all afternoon. Nicholls State rushed for 408 yards and had three different running backs rush for at least 95 yards. Each of those running backs – Broderick Cole, Joseph Tobias and Anthony Harris – had at least one run of 35 yards as well.
"We're not playing that offense again, and none of our guys had ever seen that (offense)," said Hoeppner. "We'll be relieved to go back and play a more traditional type of offense."
It was a 40-yard touchdown run by Harris with 1:20 remaining the third quarter that gave Nicholls State its first lead of the game, 31-28. The Colonels would hold onto that lead until the Indiana's final drive of the day, one that was set up by one of the few big plays from the IU defense on the afternoon.
On the 13th play of a 69-yard yard, seven-minute Nicholls State drive that had moved the Colonels inside the IU 15-yard line and taken the game clock under four minutes, IU cornerback Tracy Porter came up with a game-turning play. Porter stood up Harris for no gain at the IU 11-yard line, then stripped the ball from the Colonel tailback to give the Hoosiers the ball back with 3:42 remaining and 89 yards to go for a go-ahead touchdown.
"He's a smart football player - We have him stood up…and he snatches the ball out of there," said IU Coach Terry Hoeppner.
From there, it was Blake Powers and James Hardy that rescued the Hoosiers for the second week in a row.
Powers went 5-for-7 for 73 yards on the drive and also had a critical 22-yard scramble on a 3rd-and-18 play from the Nicholls State 44. Hardy, meanwhile, got the drive going with an acrobatic 39-yard catch along the sidelines on the drive's first play. Hardy, who finished with eight catches for 122 yards, capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone.
Hoeppner said that he knew he wanted to try to use Hardy as much as possible during IU's game-winning drive.
"(Down the stretch) you think about players – not plays," said Hoeppner. "You think about a guy who can make a play that you need to make at that point. Players make plays…it's easier to make those decisions and make those calls when you have guys like Blake Powers and James Hardy."
Powers, who finished 19-of-36 for 307 yards and four touchdowns, said he knew he was going to Hardy on the game-winning touchdown play.
"The play was designed to go to him," said Hardy. "I said I don't care what they do, I'm going to throw you the ball. James, being the type of guy that he is, said, ‘well do it then.' And I did. Every chance you get, you want to throw it to a great player, and James is a great player.
While Indiana came up with plays when it needed to down the stretch to improve to 2-0 for the second straight season, Saturday's scare – coupled with a narrow seven-point win last week at Central Michigan – certainly give reason for concern as the Hoosier schedule prepares to get much more difficult.
For the second straight week, the Hoosier rushing attack struggled. Indiana was outgained on the ground 408-114 by the Colonels, with Chris Taylor leading the IU attack with just 48 yards on 11 carries. Yamar Washington, who came off the bench to rush for 108 yards a week ago, was held to just 30 yards on 12 carries.
Defensively, Indiana's attempts to stop the Nicholls State rushing attack were futile. Nicholls State averaged 6.3 yards/carry on the afternoon, and the IU defense managed only two tackles for loss all afternoon. Fullback Broderick Cole battered the interior of the IU defense with a team-high 99 yards on 23 carries, while Tobias (6 carries, 95 yards) and Harris (8 carries, 95 yards) did their damage on the outside.
"What we didn't do was stop that fullback. He hit us on a long run early on, and that's unnerving," said Hoeppner.
It also wasn't as if the Hoosiers had to deal with a balanced offensive attack. Nicholls State didn't complete its first pass until early in the fourth quarter, and Vannoy was just 4-of-10 on the day. Five of those passes came on the game's final drive, when Vannoy went 3-for-5 and drove the Colonels 47 yards in :45 to set up the last-second, 30-yard throw that was batted down by Majors in the end zone.
But Hoeppner said he knew Indiana would have its hands full on Saturday, and doesn't think that the close calls suggest that Indiana will struggle the rest of the way this season.
"Here is what I'd tell that skeptical fan – go get a team and go play Nicholls State, and see what they do to you skeptical fan!" said Hoeppner. "Get your tails in here, back the Hoosiers, because this a great football team. We're just going to find a way to win.
"If you thought it was going to be easy today, you came to the wrong joint, because I knew it was going to be tough. We defended the rock."
Hardy, Powers Save Hoosiers
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