Bloomington - Earlier this week, senior linebacker Matt Mayberry sat in the IU football team room, his back up against the wall as he answered questions about his team's woulda been, coulda been season.
It was a pose much like the one Mayberry's team finds itself in as it faces a rapidly disappearing future. A handful of near misses in conference play have the Hoosiers backed into a corner, in need of two wins in the season's final two weeks to gain bowl eligibility.
That task might seem closer to impossible than improbable considering IU starts things off tomorrow against a Penn State team that it's never beaten. But wouldn't it only seem just that Indiana finally figures out a win one of these games against a Big Ten frontrunner?
Mayberry pondered that same question Monday, sighed, and responded.
"I would hope so," Mayberry said.
Indiana will get that chance Saturday at Noon when it takes on Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions in front of 108,000 in Beaver Stadium. While the Hoosiers are trying to keep their dwindling bowl hopes alive, Penn State is trying to stay within one game of the Big Ten lead, currently shared by Iowa and Ohio State at 5-1. The Lions boast one of the nation's best defenses (No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense), the Big Ten leader in touchdown passes (Daryll Clark, 18) and the conference's second leading rusher (Evan Royster, 895 yards).
IU Coach Bill Lynch knows it will be a challenge.
"Penn State's defense is very similar to Ohio State and Iowa's defense in that they don't give up very many points and yards. You really have to earn everything you get," Lynch said. "The game will be a challenge for us from an offensive standpoint, but our defense will also be playing against a well-balanced offense. Daryll Clark is a player who has played a lot and certainly is a national type guy. He is a good passer and runner...The balance in their attack is tough because if you look at the offense numbers wise, running and passing, teams like that are always the most difficult to defend.
Despite the challenge that Penn State poses, Mayberry is among those who thinks Indiana is capable of finally getting over the hump against a top-20 caliber team.
"Even though we've had a couple of heartbreaking losses, I still think they're an offense we can get at," Mayberry said. "They're a good offense led by a good quarterback in Daryll Clark, but we hung in with all the offenses we've been playing, and I don't think they're any better than what we've been facing."
There's little doubt that in spite of six losses in its last seven games, Indiana will arrive at Beaver Stadium with plenty of confidence. While the Hoosiers' other five road trips have resulted in only one win (Akron), they've led in the fourth quarter of every game other than the debacle at Virginia. Indiana's been to a similar type atmosphere in Michigan, and it's held its own against a team that's every bit as good in Iowa.
So will this finally be the week that Indiana gets that jaw-dropping win that its appeared to be on the precipice of about three other times this season?
Unfortunately for Indiana fans…probably not. The Lions' stingy defense will make things tough on Ben Chappell and Co., and Daryll Clark will do a better job of exploiting a beaten up IU secondary than either Ricky Stanzi or Scott Tolzien did. The Hoosiers' hopes rely on defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton having huge games and potentially creating some turnovers. Otherwise, Indiana's bowl hopes will officially come to an end.
Hoosier Nation's Prediction: Penn State 30, Indiana 18
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
PENN STATE: One Day and Counting
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