It's been a trying week for the Hoosier football program.
Indiana (2-0) heads into Saturday's match-up against I-AA Southern Illinois (1-0) without head coach Terry Hoeppner and last year's leading receiver, James Hardy. Hoeppner's health concerns and Hardy's two-game suspension have presented some formidable obstacles to a football team that has been very good at times and shaky at others during a pair of wins over MAC foes in weeks one and two.
Despite all of the off-the-field distractions, the Hoosiers can ill-afford a slip up in week three against the Salukis, a team that is nationally-ranked in I-AA and has visions of springing an upset at Memorial Stadium.
"The real test of a team is how they respond when faced with adversity," Blake Powers said this week.
Well, Indiana has been dealt a season's worth of adversity in the course of about three days. When this game kicks off at 4 p.m., IU fans will find out exactly how the Hoosiers will react.
It's a good bet the Hoosiers will respond with an inspired effort. Before leaving the team, Hoeppner insisted that they not let his situation become a distraction or an excuse to winning football games. What it's likely to do, though, is provide plenty of motivation to win while he's recuperating.
"He told us he's going to be okay, so we'll just go out and focus and practice hard and do what we do," said freshman Ray Fisher. "Keep him in our thoughts, pray every night, and come out and ball."
As for Hardy's absence, it's not nearly as costly as it would have been a year ago. Last season, Hardy was the focal point of the IU offense, and opponents responded accordingly. This year, wideouts such as James Bailey, Jahkeen Gilmore, Nick Polk, Ray Fisher and Andrew Means have all shown they are capable of making the sort of big plays that Hardy seemed to have a monopoly on a year ago.
Expect to see both Blake Powers and Kellen Lewis Saturday, and look for both to have big afternoons. It's a good bet that Powers will earn the start this weekend, but Lewis' performance in the win last week at Ball State all but guarantees he'll get plenty of opportunities to pick apart the SIU defense with his arm and his feet.
On the other side of the ball, SIU has a formidable ground attack, led by tailback Arkee Whitlock. But Indiana has also been much better in defending the run this season, limiting its foes to 56.5 yards/game on the ground. Look for the Hoosiers to crowd the line of scrimmage and commit seven or even eight to stopping the SIU ground game. Indiana will take its chances against SIU quarterback Nick Hill, a first-year starter who threw for only 85 yards in his season opener. Hill and SIU's wideouts will have to prove it can beat IU cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Chris Phillips in man coverage. That's not likely to happen.
HoosierNation.com prediction: Indiana 30, Southern Illinois 13
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
One Day and Counting...
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