Bloomington – Bill Lynch sees a lot of things that he likes in this week's opponent.
No. 22 Northwestern is off to a 6-1 start and is ranked for the first time since 2005. They're coming off a convincing 48-26 win over Purdue, a victory that made Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team bowl eligible for the second straight season.
Northwestern has a senior quarterback in C.J. Bacher, a proven commodity in tailback Tyrell Sutton, and a defense that has climbed from tenth in the Big Ten in scoring defense a year ago to No. 4 this season. They're also exceptionally good in close games, evidenced by the fact they are 16-3 in games decided by seven points or less dating back to 2004.
"Northwestern is a really good football team," Lynch said. "They're a team that as a coach you have a lot of respect for because of the way they play. They play with a real toughness, both sides of the ball. They're very sound and well coached."
Northwestern is also playing with a level of confidence that goes along with winning six out of seven games. The same can't be said about Lynch's Hoosiers, who have lost five in a row, including four straight to open conference play.
But Lynch is hopeful his team can turn its fortunes around this weekend and get back to playing the way many expected when the season started.
"We have to get (our confidence) back," Lynch said. "Having a little bit of success gets it back in a hurry. I certainly think as a staff we believe in this football team, and they know this can be a good football team."
Indiana's offense had some different looks last week against Illinois.
After utilizing a single-back, no tight end alignment for most of the season, the Hoosiers sprinkled in some two running back sets in Champaign. With no true fullbacks on the roster, IU turned to linebacker Ian Reeves to try to help create some opportunities for IU's tailbacks.
In addition to the presence of Reeves, the Hoosiers attempted to utilize the tight end more frequently as well. Troy Wagner started at tight end, and IU quarterback Ben Chappell threw five balls to the tight ends. Those five attempts resulted in only one 12-yard completion to Max Dedmond on IU's second drive, but IU figures to continue to try to add some different wrinkles offensively to get untracked.
"We played with a little more tight end," Lynch said. "We wanted to slow the game down a little bit if we could…we wanted to be able to run the ball a little more, be able to slow it down a little bit."
"The use of a fullback and tight end, meanwhile, was also designed to help out against Illinois' pass rush as well. The Illini still managed to sack Chappell four times and pressured him into some other throwaways, but with some of the issues along the offensive line Lynch wanted some additional protection in Chappell's first career start.
"When you have a great pass rushing team like that, the more spread you are, the more opportunities you give them," Lynch said.
While many may have already written off the 2008 football season as a significant step backward from last year's Insight Bowl appearance, Lynch isn't ready to do that just yet. He also believes the players are taking the same approach.
During his Tuesday press conference, Lynch said the results in recent weeks haven't been what any one would have hoped for, but he's been encouraged by what he's seen from the players in the aftermath of some difficult losses.
"I like our football team, I like our guys, I like they way they work, I like the way they come back after a tough loss," Lynch said. "When I say I like what I'm seeing, I'm going off yesterday afternoon in with our guys, watching their attitude and how they went out the practice."
Thus far, that positive attitude hasn't resulted in a change on the football field, but Lynch is hopeful that turnaround will come during the final five games of the regular season.
"There's still a lot to play for, and still a lot out there," Lynch said. "We have to get back to playing good, sound football."
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