As if earning the IU football program's first bowl invitation in 12 years isn't enough incentive, the Hoosiers have something else to motivate them to win two out of their last three and earn the right to play a 12th game.
That's because without a postseason bowl invitation, senior captain John Pannozzo's college playing career has come to an end. Indiana's middle linebacker suffered a broken hand in Saturday's 46-15 loss at Michigan State, an injury that required surgery on Monday. IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said on the Big Ten Teleconference this afternoon that Pannozzo will be out for the remainder of the regular season, but might have a chance to return to the field if Indiana earns a bowl invitation.
"Maybe they'll say, ‘hey, win two for John, and we might get to take him bowling with us," Hoeppner said.
Pannozzo, who moved from fullback to linebacker last summer, has started all eight games at middle linebacker this season. He ranks third on the team with 52 tackles and is second on the team in both tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (3.0).
While he won't be able to suit up for Indiana's last three regular season games, Hoeppner expects him to still be able to contribute off the field.
"I told him last night when he got back from the hospital that hey, he has a different role, but he can still help us, and he will," said Hoeppner. "He'll be out there contributing doing what he can, because of those leadership abilities that he has."
Hoeppner said those leadership qualities had an opportunity to surface in the off-season, when the three-year starting fullback agreed to switch positions before his final college season. Hoeppner's spread offense rarely required the use of a fullback, so it was a switch that Pannozzo needed to make if he wanted a chance to contribute.
"John has been not only an influence and impact on the field, but it really gave him an opportunity to really develop as a leader," said Hoeppner. "He's a natural leader, he's a guy that players on both sides of the ball and coaches respect.
"We're going to miss him on the field, but hopefully he can help us off the field."
On the field, it's unclear what Indiana will do to address Pannozzo's absence. One possibility has senior Kyle Killion moving back to middle linebacker – a position he played a year ago – while Geno Johnson, Jake Powers and Josh Moore work in at outside linebacker.
While Pannozzo's production will be missed, so will his on-field presence. Hoeppner said he's already talked with a couple of senior defenders about helping fill that void.
"I've already talked to some of them," said Hoeppner. "You look at the seniors, you look at a Kyle Killion, who was second team all-big ten last year. You look at Russ Richardson who is one of our more motivational guys.
"I think John will be there for us. I think that will inspire the guys."
Injury Sidelines Pannozzo
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