Bloomington, Ind. – Now that Indiana has achieved its stated goal of "Playing 13," the Hoosiers task is to do what Terry Hoeppner would have done.
Set a new goal.
With the who, what, when and where of their postseason now determined, Bill Lynch's team must now turn its attention to figuring out a way to slow down a potent Oklahoma State offense and coming away with a win in the Dec. 31 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
According to Lynch, that's what former Coach Terry Hoeppner's focus would have been soon after the bowl invitation was extended.
"I know right now he'd be excited and jacked up for these kids," Lynch said about his former boss. "He loved coaching football and loved reaching goals and moving onto the next one. That's the way he'd be. He wouldn't be surprised, he'd expect this. His next step would be to get these guys ready and believing they could win the game on the 31st."
One of the players he'd probably be most excited for is fifth-year senior offensive lineman John Sandberg, one of the members of the senior class that has endured losing seasons, coaching changes and heartbreak during his time in Bloomington. Now, Sandberg and the other seniors want to be remembered as not only the class that ended the Hoosiers' 14-year bowl drought, but the one that put a halt to a 16-year run without a bowl victory.
"We have to do the same thing we've done every week – approach this game to win it," Sandberg said. "We're not happy just going to a bowl, we want to win it."
To do that, Indiana will have to slow down a Cowboy offense that ranked ninth nationally in total offense and seventh in rushing offense.
Coach Mike Gundy's team is led by sophomore quarterback Zac Robinson, who threw for 2,522 yards and rushed for another 777 while accounting for 28 touchdowns. In addition to Robinson, the 6-6 Cowboys also boast an explosive tailback in senior Dantrell Savage who rushed for 1,172 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing two games in September due to injury.
"They're the No. 1 rushing team in the Big 12, and they were the second best total offense team in the Big 12, and that's pretty good," Lynch said.
Other than a 266-yard effort in a season-opening 35-14 loss to Georgia and a 299-yard effort in the regular season ending 49-17 setback to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State piled up at least 430 yards of total offense in each of its other 10 contests. The Cowboys also rushed for at least 200 yards as a team in eight games and for at least 300 yards four times.
"I know we've all seen a lot of Missouri, we've seen a lot of Kansas, we've seen a lot of Oklahoma, we've seen Texas on TV a lot, and we know Texas Tech," Lynch said. "We know how good those teams are offensively. So for (Oklahoma State) to be the No. 1 rushing team and the second best in total offense, you know they are a really good offensive football team."
No one on the IU staff knew the bowl destination until early this evening. While there's been speculation that the Hoosiers might be headed to Tempe ever since Austin Starr's 49-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to beat Purdue, it didn't become official until Sunday night.
The IU staff and players were all-but-certain that they were headed somewhere, but news of the Insight Bowl invitation was still big news when it became official.
"They were excited," Lynch said. "As time went on, the kids were like anyone else – they were trying to figure out where we were going and who we were going to play. They knew it was down to two or three bowls and two or three different teams that might be opponents.
"I think (the Insight Bowl) was their top choice, and you could tell the guys in the room were excited where we're going."
Indiana began its preparation for the postseason with practices on each of the past three days. Lynch said the team will return to practice next Friday and Saturday before the players get a week off from Dec. 9-16. Bowl preparation will then pick up on Monday, Dec. 17, when the team returns to Bloomington for a week of practice before everyone gets ready to depart for Tempe shortly after Christmas.
While the showdown with the Big 12 foe is still four weeks away, junior wide receiver James Hardy said he'll begin getting ready for the Cowboys on Monday.
"I'll be here first thing in the morning to get prepared for them and try to find as many holes as I possibly can in the defense," said Hardy.
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