Bloomington – As Indiana prepares for No. 19 Penn State and the 100,000-plus Nittany Lion well-wishers that await Saturday at Beaver Stadium, it can at least draw on the fact that it's been there, and done that.
Indiana's first three road trips this fall have included match-ups against a couple of good teams in Iowa and Northwestern. A pair of those Midwest excursions have been to two of the more intimidating venues in the Big Ten in Iowa's Kinnick Stadium and Michigan's "Big House."
In each of those games, Indiana played well enough during the first three quarters to take leads into the final quarter. But each time, Indiana has squandered those margins and ultimately left a potentially season-changing road win on the table.
Those setbacks are a source of frustration for an Indiana team that now finds itself in need of wins over Penn State and Purdue to become bowl eligible. But they're also a reason for some degree of confidence as Indiana heads to Happy Valley in search of its first-ever win over Penn State.
"I think they draw on that experience about going into that kind of environment and hopefully go with some confidence that we can play in this environment," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "It does help from a confidence standpoint that we've played well in those environments, and in some ways have fed off the environment."
It will have to do that against this weekend when it takes on a Penn State team that has a whole lot more going for it than a stadium that seats 108,000. The Lion defense ranks third nationally in scoring defense, surrendering just 10.8 points/game. On offense Joe Paterno's team has the league's second-leading rusher in Evan Royster and a senior quarterback in Daryll Clark who ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards and has thrown a league-high 18 touchdowns.
The Lions are also likely itching to take their frustrations out on someone after falling at home to Ohio State 24-7 last week, a loss that likely ended their chances of a Big Ten championship.
Indiana, meanwhile, is once again trying to bounce back from its most recent heartbreaking setback. The Hoosiers dropped a 31-28 decision to Wisconsin on Saturday, as the defense was unable to get a critical stop late in the fourth quarter that could have given Ben Chappell and the IU offense a chance for a game-winning drive.
The near misses – both home and away – have senior linebacker thinking Indiana is bound to have one of these games go its way down the stretch.
"People thought we'd crumble after some of the losses we've had, specifically Iowa and Northwestern," Mayberry said. "But everyone has come back to work and prepared the same way, if not better."
That will be the goal once again this week as Indiana readies itself for its sixth and final road trip of the season. Indiana's players say the precedent has been set that they'll come out and practice well and play well, and the hope is that they'll finally play well enough to get a desperately needed win.
"Our players this year, they continue to fight," Tandon Doss said. "We're not going to let up for anybody. We're going to keep playing and keep fighting."
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