Bloomington, Ind. – No matter how deflating last weekend's loss was to I-AA Southern Illinois, senior Lance Bennett doesn't think this year's team will respond the same way a couple of previous Hoosier teams did.
One of four Hoosier captains, Bennett said that after Saturday's 35-28 loss to Southern Illinois Saturday, the mood of the players was better than some might have anticipated.
"Even two hours after the game, I didn't see any loss of belief in our team," Bennett said. "I just saw, ‘man, we let one get away from us.'
"I didn't see what I saw three years ago when I was here."
When pressed on what unfolded three years ago when the Hoosiers suffered through some equally discouraging efforts, Bennett smiled.
"That's a rap," said Bennett.
Indiana's players might not be about to throw in the towel this year, but Bennett is well aware the challenges that lie ahead are difficult. That starts this weekend, when the Hoosiers host a Connecticut team that has led the Big East in total defense in each of the past two seasons.
It's an opponent that's a good final tune-up for the Hoosiers as they gear up for the start of Big Ten play next week. In the same breath, though, the Huskies are a team that present a difficult challenge for an IU squad that is in need of a confidence boost after last weekend's effort.
"Definitely the best team we've played, hands down," Bennett said of UConn. "Connecticut will be as good as, if not better than, two or three or four of the Big Ten teams we play. So it's a good test for us."
They're particularly solid on the defensive side of the ball, and they'll provide a stiff test for whomever winds up under center for IU this weekend – Kellen Lewis or Blake Powers.
"They are balanced on defense," Bennett said. "They have one extra person in the box when you want to run the ball. So if you are only going to block with five, they have six in the box. They have five outside the box to defend the pass. So it's not like they are going to just drop eight to defend our pass and leave three on the line.
"Every week we're going to have to be balanced offensively, but it's going to be a real challenge to do that this week."
The game also provides a chance for Bennett and the other Hoosier seniors to erase some bad memories. The last two times these teams squared off came three years ago in the 2003 season opener. It was a long day for the Hoosiers, who surrendered more than 500 yards of total offense in a 34-10 UConn win in the first game played in Rentschler Field.
While most of the names have changed, Bennett still remembers the bad taste that game left.
"It wasn't a good day," said Bennett, who was playing in his first collegiate game. "It seemed like we couldn't get anything started. They had all the momentum, all the juice."
Connecticut figures to have plenty of juice again this weekend. After last week's 24-13 loss to Wake Forest, the Huskies can ill afford to suffer another setback in the non-conference season if they hope to return to a bowl game this season, making this contest a critical one for both squads.
The outcome of this weekend's game will allow one team to head into league play on a positive note, while the other will be handed a second consecutive loss, which could be crippling to either team's confidence level.
"Momentum is everything," Bennett said.
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