Bloomington, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner might have a vision for the future of the IU football program, but he says he's still focused on the present.
That present is the 2006 season, one that has seen Indiana drop three home games in a row to slip to 2-3. With a schedule that gets exponentially more daunting with the arrival of October, some have suggested it's already time to beginning looking ahead to 2007 in terms of who is lining up to play beginning with Saturday's contest at Illinois.
Hoeppner said there will be some adjustments made for Saturday's noon kickoff against the Illini, and that could also mean some new faces on the football field as well. But it's not about thinking ahead to next fall.
"We haven't given up on the older guys by any stretch, but we played our 19th freshman or redshirt freshman, and there might be more on the horizon," Hoeppner said. "That becomes an evaluation process during the practice week – who is playing best?"
In last week's 52-17 loss to Wisconsin, true freshman Rodger Saffold earned his first start at left tackle, while another true freshman, Pete Saxon, burned his redshirt season as well and played a great deal at left guard. They are two of the seven true freshmen who have already played this season, along with linebackers Will Patterson, Matt Mayberry and Mandela Roberts, wide receiver Ray Fisher and safety J.T. Owens.
Hoeppner says the abundance of new faces on the field for IU, though, has nothing to do with turning the page on the '06 senior class, or the upperclassmen or the players who were brought in by previous coaching staffs, but instead it's about trying to find a combination that can help the Hoosiers get back in the win column.
"We haven't written anyone off," Hoeppner said. "Go out and compete. If you aren't playing, show us you should be playing. That's the challenge.
"The fact we're playing some younger guys is because they're practicing best…to say we've written this season off, or we're building for the future – no. We're building for Illinois."
As far fetched as it might seem, Hoeppner still is holding out hope Indiana can turn its fortunes around starting this weekend and give itself a chance to fulfill the team's goal of "playing 13" and getting into a bowl game. With contests against No. 1 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan and No. 19 Iowa, among others, still looming that might seem like a stretch, Hoeppner hasn't thrown in the towel just yet.
"I haven't given up, and I hope they haven't given up, that we can still play 13," Hoeppner said. "It's getting tougher. Mathematically, our margin of error is slimmer, but we haven't given up on it, and I haven't given up on them."
One thing Hoeppner does know is that his team will have to start playing a whole lot better than it has in recent weeks. On the defensive side IU surrendered 390 yards in the first half to Wisconsin last week and eventually fell behind 52-0 at the end of three quarters. It was the kind of beating Hoeppner said he hasn't experienced as a head coach before, and one he doesn't plan on going through again.
"I'm most disappointed (in our pass defense)," Hoeppner said. "We're better than that.
"You have to play sound pass defense, you can't give up easy touchdowns through the air. Period. Unacceptable. It's received a lot of attention both on Sunday and Monday with the staff, and will obviously be a point of emphasis today."
Hoeppner also pointed out that the defense needs to cut down on the missed tackles that it's had in recent weeks. That will be particularly important this weekend when IU tries to contain an Illinois offense that will be led by true freshman quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams.
In just his second career start, Williams completed 9-of-16 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball 17 times for 103 yards.
"Juice is not only throwing the ball well, but by design they're running him out of the spread," Hoeppner said. "You play an Illinois with Juice, he's going to run it, by design. And he's 220 pounds, so he's a powerful runner. We have to identify that."
Hoeppner Not Giving Up On Season, Seniors
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