James Hardy knows he and his teammates will be dealing with a raucous crowd in Madison on Saturday, but he's expecting to be among those making noise when Saturday's kickoff arrives.
"Everyone is amped up, and we're ready to go up there and shock the world," said the 6-7, 215-pound Hoosier wideout. "We feel we have the talent to go out there and beat them."
Hardy and his teammates might think they have what it takes to upset 17th-ranked and undefeated Wisconsin, but most prognosticators don't. The Badgers are three-touchdown favorites over the Hoosiers, who have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1994. Indiana traveled to Madison to open the Big Ten slate that season as well, and came away licking its wounds after a 62-13 drubbing at the hands of the Badgers.
But that's ancient history in the minds of Hardy and his teammates, all of whom appear to believe they are on their way to turning the program's fortunes around in 2005.
That's the sort of confidence that's been lacking in recent years in Bloomington. But the Hoosiers' quick start, coupled with a new attitude that Terry Hoeppner brought with him from Miami (Ohio), has Hardy and his teammates thinking anything is possible.
"Coach Hoeppner has our confidence sky high right now," said Hardy. "We're going to go out there and try to practice like champions, and hopefully be able to go out there on Saturday and get a victory."
Hardy is a big reason for Indiana's early success. The redshirt freshman ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receptions (5.7/game) and second in receiving yardage (88.7/game) while hauling in a touchdown in each of Indiana's three wins.
But it's been more than simply numbers – it's been Hardy's timing. Against Central Michigan he not only came up with a pair of big catches in the second quarter to help IU to a 14-3 halftime lead, but he drew a pass interference call in the game's final minute on 4th down to secure a 20-13 IU win. The following week, Hardy caught four passes for 64 yards in IU's fourth quarter, game-winning drive against Nicholls State, including the go-ahead, seven-yard touchdown pass from Blake Powers.
Hardy has been nursing a nagging Achilles injury that first cropped up during fall camp, but the Hoosiers' bye week undoubtedly came at a good time for him.
"I've been taking it one day at a time," said Hardy, who practiced at full speed on Tuesday. "Hopefully today it won't hurt me at practice, and this will be behind me."
With that injury seemingly moving into Hardy's rearview mirror, he's now looking ahead to a Big Ten season opener in the sort of hostile environment that many of the Hoosiers haven't dealt with before. At least seven Hoosiers will be making their first career Big Ten starts on Saturday, including Hardy and Powers.
"For me, I don't really know what to expect (in Madison)," said Hardy. "I've never been there and had a chance to go out there and play. It's going to be very difficult. We know that. But we're taking it one game at a time. We look at every game the same. It's going to be difficult with all their fans, but we'll have to adjust to it."
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