It's time for some changes with the IU football team.
Thoughts of a second straight bowl berth have given way to fears Indiana might not win another game this season. As improbable as that might have seemed six weeks ago, it borders on probable based on yesterday's 55-13 drubbing in Champaign.
In suffering its most lopsided loss in five years, Indiana appears to be playing with some combination of no heart, no effort and no resolve. While some might argue with that suggestion it's undisputable that there have been no results, and at this point there's virtually no hope for a turnaround.
That, quite frankly, isn't acceptable. Now is the time for IU Coach Bill Lynch and his staff to make the sort of changes that might not result in a bowl berth, but will provide some reasons for optimism moving forward.
Let me suggest…
- playing the younger players – "There's always next year" isn't the mantra anyone wants to hear in mid-October, but it's the reality of where this team is right now. While loyalty is an admirable trait in most walks of life, playing the veterans serves little purpose at this point.
True freshman offensive tackle Justin Pagan should start. Dennis Zeigler, if he can get healthy, should do the same at guard. Wide receiver Damarlo Belcher should see his playing time increase dramatically and the same goes for Tyler Replogle at linebacker. I wouldn't even completely rule out the idea of playing running back Darius Willis for the final five games, if (and only if) IU would make a commitment to making him the primary ball carrier and give him 15-20 carries per game.
It's time to give these players a chance to see what they can do in a primary role instead of a secondary one.
- identifying some sophomores or juniors who are going to be leaders for the team beginning in 2009, and begin leaning on them to provide some of that leadership on the practice field.
During a couple of days at practice last week, I was among the observers who was struck by the relative malaise that was predominant on the practice fields. It wasn't from the coaching staff – Lynch lit into his team pretty good after Tuesday's practice – but the players themselves. While those two days provided only a limited snapshot of everything that goes on during the week, there didn't appear to be anyone on the team who was angry about the situation the team found itself in. It would seem after four straight losses (at that point), there would be a player or two who would be making it clear that what's been unfolding was unacceptable.
While "leading by example" is an admirable trait, I contend that approach works a lot better when you're winning, not when you've lost five in a row. Someone on the roster needs to voice their opinion that this is intolerable, and that they're not going to accept these sort of efforts from themselves or their teammates. If that's not going to come from the seniors, then it's going to have to come from someone else.
- scrapping the "business as usual" approach. I understand that the coaching staff doesn't want to hit the panic button and talk about games as "must win," but Indiana better start playing better and it must win some games down the stretch. Talk of remedying everything that's been going on with better execution and simply playing a little bit better might be tolerable after a game like the 42-29 loss to Michigan State. But after being outscored by a combined 78 points in the last two games, something a little more dramatic needs to happen.
Maybe what's needed is a fiery call-in show or press conference from Lynch this week where he voices his displeasure with what's happened during the last month and a half, and that changes are going to be made as a result. Players don't need to be called out by name, but it needs to be made clear that the staff isn't going to sit idly by and watch the season continue to disintegrate.
These aren't requests for change simply for the sake of change, but because Indiana must try to shake things up to give this team a chance to win some games down the stretch and to give fans some reason for optimism. If there isn't some sort of turnaround during the final five weeks of the regular season, this program runs the risk of giving back most of the gains from last year's Insight Bowl trip.
DECKER: Something Has To Change
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