Bloomington – As Indiana's players and coaches get knee deep into their preparations for Saturday night's clash with No. 9 Ohio State, Coach Bill Lynch is taking a glass half full approach to the match-up.
"This is not only a challenge, but a great opportunity for not only this football team, but this football program here at Indiana," Lynch said Monday.
The challenges that Ohio State present are obvious. On both sides of the ball, Coach Jim Tressel's Buckeyes have speed, athleticism, size, experience and most importantly difference-makers in abundance.
That's why the Big Ten's decision to suspend captain and starting free safety Kurt Coleman for the game due to a helmet-to-helmet hit on Illinois quarterback Eddie McGee is hardly a blip on Indiana's radar this week. Quarterback Ben Chappell said he hadn't even heard the news of the suspension.
"I'm sure they're going to have another big boy back there in the secondary to replace him," Chappell said.
When it comes to difference-makers on offense, that player is sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The preseason choice as the conference's Offensive Player of the Year, Pryor is a dual threat weapon like the player IU went up against last week, Michigan's Tate Forcier. The difference, though, is that Pryor is bigger, stronger and faster. Pryor has not only completed 50-of-87 throws for 695 yards in the season's first four weeks, but he's also Tressel's leading rusher with 58.8 yards/game.
When Lynch was the head coach at Ball State he twice coached against then Central Florida quarterback Daunte Culpepper, and he said that the challenges Indiana faces with Pryor this weekend are similar to the ones Culpepper presented when he was starring in college.
"You can't let Ohio State come in here and run the ball all over you," Lynch said. "But you have to be sound at how you do it, because with him back there at quarterback, he's part of the running game. If you sell out, he'll come out the other end or quarterback draws or run options. He's a very difficult guy to defend."
As big of a challenge as Pryor poses, the Buckeye defense might be even more formidable. Ohio State enters the game having posted back-to-back shutouts against Toledo and Illinois, and it ranks among the nation's leaders in scoring defense (7th), total defense (16th) and pass efficiency defense (11th).
Figuring out a way to move the ball won't come easily, Lynch admitted Tuesday.
"From an offensive standpoint, you're always trying to find a weakness," Lynch said. "They don't handle this very well, we can exploit this. Well, they're one of those defenses that you can spend all day Sunday and Sunday night and Monday (and not find anything). What it comes down to, we're going to have to execute…they handle it all and they handle it all very well."
Despite those challenges, Lynch says his team is excited about the opportunity they'll have Saturday night. Indiana will likely be playing in front of a sold-out Memorial Stadium crowd. That, coupled with the night time start, will produce the sort of atmosphere that hasn't been commonplace in Bloomington for some time.
His team also possesses a level of confidence that perhaps recent Indiana teams have lacked. Some of that is because of the fact that IU's two-deep is well stocked with fourth and fifth-year players. But it's also because Indiana comes into the game having won three of its first four with the lone setback being by the narrowest of margins at Michigan last weekend.
"This is a football team that is getting better week by week," Lynch said. "It's a showcase game for us as far as the stadium and the new experience we're selling…it should be a great evening for football here in Bloomington."
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