BLOOMINGTON-There's no mistaking the fact that Indiana's players and coaches not only want to win this weekend's game in Iowa City – they believe they can as well.
"We know we can play with anyone in this conference," said senior nose guard Russ Richardson.
Richardson and his IU teammates will find out if that's the case at 11 a.m. Saturday, when the Hoosiers (4-1/1-1) travel to Iowa City to take on an Iowa team (4-2/2-1) that hasn't been beaten at home in more than three years. It's a 21-game home winning streak that ranks third in college football, trailing only Boise State (26) and USC (22).
That streak includes a 3-0 mark at Kinnick Stadium this year, with the Hawkeyes beating Ball State, Northern Iowa and Illinois by a combined 108 points.
That challenge isn't lost on Richardson or his teammates, but perhaps unlike years past, they no longer expect to be Big Ten road kill every time they venture away from Memorial Stadium.
"It's hard to win in the Big Ten on the road," said Richardson. "But we're going to go in there and play the way we can play, play our game, and not let the crowd affect us."
Fellow senior Chris Taylor, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in IU's 36-13 win over Illinois last week, also understands the challenge ahead, as well as the opportunity.
"It's a huge game for us, and hopefully we are 5-1 when it's over," said Taylor. "We know we're going into a tough environment and they have a good team. We have to go in there and play our style of football, play like we've been playing, and I think everything will work out.
"We feel we can go into any place and win. That's the type of confidence that we need to have."
That sort of confidence is a result of not only of the words of first-year Hoosier coach Terry Hoeppner, but also the success Indiana has had in the season's first six weeks. With its 36-13 win over Illinois last weekend, Indiana opened the year 4-1 for the first time since 1994.
No matter how good a salesman Hoeppner is, he also knows that the team needed to have success on the football field before it would have the level of self-confidence it needed to be able to go on the road in the Big Ten and be competitive.
"It's not something you can go and check out of the equipment room or that, as coaches, you can give the guys," said Hoeppner. "You can wish it, and you can hope for it, but they have to gain that confidence themselves."
That confidence is a by-product of not only the four wins, but also the one loss, a 41-24 setback in Madison to Wisconsin. Despite the 17-point setback, Indiana was able to line up with one of the Big Ten's best teams and not get pushed around or run over by one of the nation's best running attacks.
"It's not just a physical thing – it's a mental thing," said Richardson. "We go out there and there's a new confidence that you're counting on the guy next to you to his job, and everyone feels they can take care of their responsibility and win their own individual battle."
One battle that won't be an individual one for the Indiana defense is slowing down Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, the league's preseason choice as the Offensive Player of the Year. While his 180.2 yards/game passing is down from where he was a year ago, he's still the key to an Iowa offense that's averaging 29.8 points and 405.3 yards/game.
"He's the engine of that offense," said Hoeppner. "He appears to be on a role, and as he goes it seems right now so go thee Hawkeyes on offense. It's going to be a challenge."
Tate is coming off a 19-for-33, 357-yard effort at Purdue last weekend, guiding the Hawkeyes to a 34-17 win that they desperately needed if they hoped to compete for the Big Ten title.
"You can't say it's just going to be a challenge for the secondary (to slow Tate)," said Hoeppner. "It's going to be a challenge for the entire defense. We have to try to contain Drew Tate and not let him have some of the big plays he had not only last week but in others…If he's playing well, they are tough to handle for sure.
"We're going to have to step it up several notches to compete with these guys."
Both IU's players and coaches know that they'll need to step it up to have a chance in Iowa City, but their recent run of success has them believing that anything is possible right now with the IU program, including a win over an Iowa team that was once ranked in the nation's top 10.
"Hopefully we can go in there and come out with a victory," said James Hardy. "We know that they're a tough team but we feel like we're a tough team as well."
Hoosiers Not Ready To Slow Down
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