No one on the IU coaching staff wants to call Saturday's 3:30 p.m. contest against Connecticut a must win for the Hoosiers. It's the final tune-up for Indiana (2-1), which face a Big East foe that is 1-1 and coming off a 24-13 loss to Wake Forest last weekend.
It might not be a must win in terms of the long-term vision that IU Coach Terry Hoeppner and the staff have for the program, but down deep they likely know that if Indiana is to keep its goal of "playing 13" alive, this is a victory the Hoosiers must have.
If Indiana drops a second straight, they'll head into conference play needing to go 4-4 to get the required six wins to be bowl eligible. That's a tall order for a team that has won only four league games in the last four seasons combined (4-28) and has had a .500 Big Ten record only once in the last 12 years (4-4 in 2001).
Now, getting that win against Connecticut won't be an easy task. The Huskies are a squad that relies a great deal on tailback Terry Caulley and the ground game on offense, while the defense has led the Big East in total defense in each of the past two seasons.
That's a style that IU Interim Head Coach Bill Lynch says is very similar to what he's used to seeing in the Big Ten.
"They look like a traditional Big Ten football team," Lynch said. "In terms of how they line up and play, they play hard-nosed, tough, downhill football. That's their approach."
It's still unclear who will be under center this weekend for Indiana, which has started three different quarterbacks in the first three weeks. The battle is between junior Blake Powers and redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis, both of whom got plenty of snaps with the No. 1 offense this week.
Whichever one gets the starting nod, they'll be facing the best defensive unit Indiana has faced to date.
"They are real physical, and they are big up front," Lynch said. "They have two inside tackles, one who is a really good player, about 285 (Rhema Fuller) and the other is 320 (Ray Blagman). So they have those anchors in the middle. Their linebackers are downhill linebackers. They're going to come and hit you.
"Then, their secondary runs well. They'll be the best cover guys we've played against. They don't give up a lot of big plays."
Putting points on the board is certainly a concern, but the biggest issue facing the staff this week is coming up with a plan to slow down Caulley and the rest of the UConn tailbacks. After being very good against the run in wins against Western Michigan and Ball State, Southern Illinois ripped the IU defense for 244 yards on the ground a week ago. UConn is averaging 280.5 yards/game on the ground in its first two games, so look for them to try to control the game and the clock with its ground game.
"We have to be prepared, and there has to be an emphasis on stopping the run," Lynch said.
Lynch is also looking for some resolve from the team.
"We have to get more physical, we have to get tougher, we have to get ready for this type of game," Lynch said. "We have to play our best game on Saturday."
It's clear the Hoosiers will have to play their best game to date to beat a UConn team that beat IU 34-10 in Storrs, Conn., the only other times these two met in 2003. The question is whether or not they'll be able to put together that sort of effort for four quarters.
Look for improved play from Indiana Saturday, but ultimately the Huskies' ground game wears down the IU defense in the second half.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Connecticut 31, Indiana 20
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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