Changes Might Be Coming…But Who?- After back-to-back disappointing performances, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner has pledged to give other players opportunities to make the plays that others are missing. Missed tackles, special teams breakdowns and turnovers have resulted in a pair of 31-point losses, prompting Hoeppner to suggest that changes might be on the horizon.
Hoeppner backed off the statement a bit on Tuesday, subtly acknowledging that there aren't necessarily a slew of alternatives at his disposal. "We can't go on the waiver wire and make trades or anything like that," Hoeppner said.
That's the reality of Hoeppner's situation right now. He might want to give another cornerback or two a shot to see what they can do against the Gopher wide receivers this weekend. He might want to give another outside linebacker a chance to contribute now that John Pannozzo is out.
But what are his options?
At cornerback, Buster Larkins is out for the season, and Courtney Clency is out as well. That leaves Hoeppner with only Chris Phillips – who struggled badly against Wisconsin when Porter was sidelined for a stretch – and maybe Damien Jones. While Jones was once a starting corner, he has been moved to safety so it would be asking a lot for him to be able to move back to corner on one week's notice. As for linebacker, the more likely situation would be for the Hoosiers to play three safeties, since they have very little depth at the linebacker position.
While there have been some breakdowns in all three phases, Indiana lacks the depth right now to plug in a bunch of No. 2s and avoid having a significant drop-off in performance. That's the hand Hoeppner and his staff are dealing with right now, and they'll have to play it for the remainder of the season.
Where will Indiana be emotionally? Indiana suffered a pair of body blows in the 31-point losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, and then absorbed a low blow when Pannozzo was lost for the season and Aaron Mitchell was lost for at least a game with hand injuries. Picking itself up off the mat might be this week's biggest challenge.
All of a sudden, Indiana's climb to a postseason bowl game looks a bit like Mt. Kilimanjaro. Indiana must win two out of its last three to gain bowl eligibility, and it will likely be underdogs in each of those three contests. A short-handed Indiana team must come out with a level of intensity and energy to overcome the recent personnel losses. A quick start is an absolute must for a Hoosier team that needs a few deposits in the confidence column so that it believes it can hand the Gophers their eighth straight loss in Bloomington.
While the three-game losing streak has put a damper on some of the public's enthusiasm, Indiana still has a legitimate opportunity to play in a bowl game. It plays a Minnesota team that it knocked off 30-21 a year ago, and it will also get a shot at a reeling Purdue squad in the regular season's final week. A win over the Gophers would rekindle the fans' fire.
The burden will be on players like Russ Richardson, Kyle Killion, Adam Hines and even John Pannozzo to make sure the team is mentally prepared for the challenge – and the opportunity – that Saturday's contest presents.
Laurence Maroney- Minnesota's No. 22 is the biggest concern of any team that lines up and plays the Gophers. He's big enough and strong enough to break tackles, and he's fast enough to run away from the most fleet-footed of defensive backs. Add in the fact he runs behind one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and figuring out some way to slow down the Big Ten's leading rusher is the thing that's keeping Indiana's defensive coaches up late at night this week.
The biggest challenge will be making sure Maroney doesn't produce the big play. It's probably unrealistic to think the Hoosiers will be able to stop the 5-11, 205-pound junior, but making sure he's not ripping off runs of 20 yards and more is critical. Indiana needs a huge game from Kyle Killion, and it also needs a big effort from its defensive front four. Defensive tackles Charlie Emerson, Russ Richardson and Greg Brown need to occupy the Gopher offensive line and free up the IU linebackers to fill the holes and make plays.
Indiana will get a lift with the likely return of Troy Grosfield to the secondary this week. The junior safety is clearly the secondary's best open field tackler, an area IU was sorely lacking in a week ago.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Three Days and Counting...
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