Bloomington – So was last Saturday's road trip to Virginia simply a bad day…or a bad sign?
We'll find out Saturday.
That's when Coach Bill Lynch's team returns to the field for a 7 p.m. Homecoming match-up against 1-4 Illinois. With a win, Indiana can rid itself of the bad taste (and press) it's had after Saturday's 47-7 drubbing in Charlottesville. With a loss, the Hoosiers will see their losing streak reach four with very few winnable games in sight.
Any chance of win against the Illini, though, relies on correcting a whole slew of things that went wrong on both sides of the ball against Virginia. Offensively, Lynch said Indiana has to block better and produce more big plays. Defensively, the Hoosiers have to tackle better, fill the gaps and create some turnovers.
They'll have to do that against an Illinois team that hammered Indiana a year ago, 55-13. As ugly as the Virginia game was Saturday, that game one year ago in Champaign might have been even worse for Indiana's players, coaches and fans alike.
"It was a horrible night," Jammie Kirlew said of last year's game at Illinois. "I remember not wanting that to ever happen again."
Unfortunately it did, this past Saturday at Virginia. Suddenly an Indiana team that was brimming with confidence after a 3-0 start and a near-miss at Michigan is left with a damaged psyche thanks to its current three-game slide.
"That's part of playing," Lynch said Tuesday. "When you have success you feel good about yourself, and when you don't that (doubt) creeps in.
"I talk to the team all the time and it really is the truth – you're never as good or bad as you think. The truth is somewhere in between. And that's where we are as a football team."
There have been plenty who have wanted to saddle Lynch with the responsibility for Indiana's recent struggles, but Indiana's players don't appear to agree with that assessment. Instead, they say the onus is on them to play with the intensity and focus that they say was present during the first three weeks.
"A lot of people think he might be doing some of the things wrong, but it's really the players that have to step it up," Mayberry said. "He can only tell us technique and exactly what to do. But it's up to the players. We have to go out there and get the intensity back."
If they can do that, Mayberry and Kirlew are both convinced that the 2009 season doesn't have to unravel like so many other Indiana football season have over the years. Instead of focusing in on the three losses in three weeks, they're more preoccupied with the chance to play six more Big Ten football games over the next month and a half and fulfilling the promise that the team showed during the season's opening four weeks.
"This can be a very good football team," Lynch said. "We played poorly Saturday. There's no denying that. It happens. I don't like it. Don't want it to happen again. But it happens. You deal with it and move on."
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