Bloomington – Let's avoid calling this weekend's road trip to Charlottesville a "must" win for the Indiana football team.
Assigning that sort of significance to a non-conference game in the second weekend in October with six more games remaining on the schedule seems a bit excessive. I'm no mathematician, but with three wins on the board and half of the regular season still waiting to get to the magic number of six for bowl eligibility, there's nothing that's "must" about this one, right.
Ummm...sure. So in the spirit of not putting too much of a burden on the IU football team as it boards the plane today at the Monroe County airport and departs for Charlotteville, I won't refer to tomorrow's game as an absolute must. Instead, I'll just call it one where it would serve the Hoosiers well if they're able to find a way to knock off Al Groh's squad.
Did I downplay that well enough? Did I make a strong enough case that there's still a path to bowl eligibility without a victory at Scott Stadium?
I didn't think so.
For all intents and purposes, Indiana's path to the postseason leads through the victory circle in Charlottesville.
If that's the bad news, there is some good news for the Hoosiers. They're playing a Virginia team that has one of the nation's least productive offenses. They'll be playing at a 61,000-seat stadium that figures to have 10-15,000-plus empty seats, hardly the type of intimidating venue that IU generally deals with in the Big Ten.
On top of all that, Indiana has actually been a good road team this year, with an impressive 17-point win over Akron and a narrow three-point setback at Michigan. A compelling case can be made that the Hoosiers have been a whole lot better on the road than they've been at Memorial Stadium, where they've posted narrow wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan and were soundly beaten last weekend by No. 9 Ohio State.
"It helps a lot," junior linebacker Tyler Replogle said of the advantage of having a couple of solid road efforts under the team's belt. "Everyone is used to it and used to the routine."
It also helps that Indiana's confidence and focus doesn't appear to have wavered during the recent two-game slide. There's disappointment in the loss to Michigan and the performance against Ohio State, but it hasn't resulted in a let-up during the games or on the practice field.
Replogle credits the senior leadership for that fact.
"A lot (of seniors) have been through a lot, playing a lot of years here," Replogle said. "You get on the sideline and it doesn't matter the score – the expectation is to play hard. If you're not, a senior is going to come talk to you about it. No one wants to be called out."
No one on the Indiana sidelines wants to drop its third straight game, either.
Expect Hoosier defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew to have huge games against a Virginia offensive line that has yielded 16 sacks in the last three games. Expect Indiana's offense to get some short fields to work with thanks to the defense, and look for Indiana's offense to throw an unexpected wrinkle or two at the Cavalier defense much like it did at Michigan.
Finally, expect Indiana to get that win that it needs to have improve to 4-2 heading into the second half of the season.
Hoosier Nation's Prediction: Indiana 23, Virginia 13
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
VIRGINIA: One Day and Counting
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