Three Days and Counting...

HoosierNation.com looks at three big concerns for IU and the coaching staff in this weekend's match-up with No. 21 Michigan in Ann Arbor.

What's James Hardy's Status?Indiana will need some big plays on offense to give itself a chance to stay close with 21st-ranked Michigan, but the status of their biggest big-play threat is very much up in the air.

James Hardy, who lead the Big Ten in both receiving yards and touchdown receptions, is questionable for Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. The 6'7" redshirt freshman left last week's Minnesota game with an injury, and wasn't expected to practice Tuesday.

Hardy has been battling a slew of aches and pains this season, including a sore Achilles, a strained hamstring, a bruised quadriceps, and a sore knee. But IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said last week's injury wasn't related to any of the nagging ailments he's been battling all season. The coach remained hopeful, though, that Hardy would be able to play when the game kicks off at Noon Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

"I'm not ever going to rule out James Hardy," Hoeppner said Tuesday. "He hasn't been 100 percent healthy all year…He's probably worse than he's been at this stage in most weeks. But he's a pretty resilient guy, and as game time draws near, he finds a way to try to play the game."

Without Hardy, Indiana quickly becomes thin at the wide receiver position. IU will also be without redshirt freshman James Bailey, who was "excused" from the team Monday for the rest of the semester to address unspecified academic issues. That leaves Jahkeen Gilmore and Marcus Thigpen as the only available wide receivers who have at least 10 catches this season. True freshman Brandon Walker-Roby likely steps into the No. 3 spot in three-wide receiver sets, and sophomore Ryan Skelton would likely be the No. 4.

Hoeppner suggested Tuesday that Indiana might not be able to use its four-wide receiver set as often as it might like this weekend if Hardy isn't able to go.

Is Indiana Resilient Enough to Avoid Throwing In the Towel?A handful of injuries in recent weeks coupled with four straight losses have all but ending Indiana's chances of achieving its goal of playing in a 12th game this season. While Indiana remains mathematically alive to go 6-5 and be bowl eligible, the reality is that it's extremely unlikely the Hoosiers can win in Ann Arbor for the first time in 38 years and then follow that up with a win over a Purdue team that embarrassed them 63-24 a year ago in West Lafayette.

With that reality likely sinking in, it would be easy for the Hoosiers to turn in a less-than-stellar effort this weekend at Michigan. The Wolverines, meanwhile, are on the opposite end of the spectrum, having won three in a row. After starting the year 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten, Michigan still have visions of earning a Big Ten championship. If the Wolverines knock off Indiana and Ohio State, and Michigan State upsets Penn State in two weeks, the Wolverines will tie for the league title.

Hoeppner knows that getting his team ready this week will be a challenge, but he expects the coaching staff to be able to get the team ready for this weekend's challenge.

"We are going to have a great week of practice," said Hoeppner. "Watching us last week, we were practicing with enthusiasm. You want to be able to say, `See guys. That paid off.' The effort and enthusiasm we practiced with. We can't say that. We didn't win the game. We played a decent first half and a horrible third quarter. How does that change things? It doesn't. We have to come back this week and practice harder and even better with more energy and enthusiasm. That is the challenge for any football team that is not winning and having positive momentum at this stage in the game."

If Indiana Gets in the Red Zone, Can It Punch It In?Indiana needs to take advantage of its red zone opportunities this weekend, and Michigan isn't very gratuitous when it comes to opponents' journeys into the red zone.

Michigan ranks ninth in the Big Ten in red zone defense, but don't let that number fool you. Wolverine foes are putting points on the board 83.3 percent of the time, but it's usually not with touchdowns. Michigan's foes have traveled inside the Michigan 20 30 times this season, and come away with 13 touchdowns and 12 field goals. Considering Indiana's struggles with its field goal kicking (only 3 field goals in six attempts all season), Indiana can't count on being able to put three points on the board when their drives stall.

Actually, Indiana can't afford to settle for three points, either. To have a chance Indiana is going to need to be able to take advantage of all of its opportunities. A more consistent running game would help keep teams from keying on the pass once the field gets shorter, so a solid effort from Chris Taylor, Yamar Washington and the offensive line would provide a big lift for an IU offense that ranks last in the Big Ten in red zone efficiency (65.8 percent).

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

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