Hoeppner turning Indiana into a threat

There was a time when people used to complain about Bill Mallory, the man at the helm of Indiana from 1986 to 1993, and who took the Hoosiers to three bowl games. At this point, that era looks pretty good when you consider the Hoosiers have had eleven straight losing seasons.

OKEMOS, MI - There was a time when people used to complain about Bill Mallory, the man at the helm of Indiana from 1986 to 1993, and who took the Hoosiers to three bowl games.

At this point, that era looks pretty good when you consider the Hoosiers have had eleven straight losing seasons. It is often difficult to establish football at what is considered a basketball school, and Indiana is no exception.

They did take a positive step in hiring Terry Hoeppner away from Miami of Ohio where he had a 48-25 record including a MAC Championship in 2003 and appearances in that game his final two years.

Last year Indiana went 4-7 in his first year and Hoeppner tried to establish a new attitude on campus. He renamed Memorial Stadium, "The Rock" to try to begin to establish a winning record at home, after all, you have to crawl before you can walk.

There were signs that the team was improving in 2005. They beat Illinois 36-13, they had only eight less yards than Wisconsin in a loss, and outgained Iowa 446-425 in another loss.

They lead Minnesota at the half 14-7, but their 4-1 record and bowl hopes to start the season fluttered into a 0-6 record at the end of the season. Of course, those games were against Iowa on the road, OSU, on the road against MSU, Minnesota, on the road against Michigan, and finally Purdue. Not easy to gain a bowl berth with a schedule like that to finish a season.

One of the reasons the team collapsed at the end was because the defense did a disappearing act, giving up 469 yards per game in the last six after only giving up 355.8 yards in the first five games.

The beginning of this 2006 season has been tough for the guys in Crimson-and-Cream. Hoeppner had to undergo brain surgery just four days after beating Ball State, when an MRI revealed a tumor.

The timing couldn't have come at a worse time after the hopeful Hoosiers started the season with a 2-0 record with a 39-20 victory over Western Michigan, and a come from behind 24-23 victory over Ball State.

Indiana held Western Michigan to just 72 yards rushing and used two long interception returns, a punt return, and a couple of touchdown passes in getting help from all phases to put down a decent Bronco team.

Kellen Lewis took over at quarterback against Ball State, and the offense jelled in the second half to pull out the heart stopper after trailing 23-7 at halftime. Lewis ended up throwing for 228 yards and running for 88 more.

Then came the tailspin came as they watched their beloved coach battling something more important than a football game. With Bill Lynch taking over as the interim head man, Indiana dropped a shocker, losing to Southern Illinois by the count of 35-28.

SIU scored 28 second half points with a balanced offense attack that had them running the ball down the throat of the Hoosiers in piling up a 244 yard to 76 yard rushing advantage. Yet, four of the scores came from close range via the pass.

The emotionally drained Hoosiers had no chance as SIU ran up and down the field, but once they got deep in enemy territory, they caught the Hoosiers napping with four short touchdown passes.

The following week they lost 14-7 to UConn as Huskie running back Terry Caulley ran for 155 yards to shock IU on their home field. It also wasted a solid pass defensive effort by the Hoosiers who held the Huskies to just 27 passing yards, with Tracy Porter picking off two passes as IU fell to 2-2.

The Big Ten season began with Wisconsin embarassing the Hoosiers at Bloomington by the score of 52-19. Wisconsin raced to a 35-0 lead and never looked back in coasting to an easy victory. The lone positive was the resurgence of the running game that saw Josiah Sears run for 100 yards.

The good feelings started to come back the following week as Indiana upset an Illinois team on the road that was coming off an upset of MSU by the score of 34-32 on a field goal by Austin Starrs as timed expired and IU (3-3)got back to the .500 mark

It was a miracle comeback that saw the Illini race to a 25-7 lead. However, the real shocker came a week later when Indiana beat No. 13 Iowa by the count of 31-28 as Kellen Lewis threw for a career high 255 yards, and James Hardy caught three touchdown passes.

Those good feelings were short-lived when Ohio State took them out in Columbus by the score of 44-3, as the Buckeyes unleashed a solid passing attack against a normally stingy Hoosier pass defense, getting four touchdown passes from Troy Smith and adding one on a trick play from Ted Ginn. Despite being up-and-down, Michigan State head coach John L. Smith has seen enough that he is wary of what the Hoosiers bring to the table. "Offensively, they're scary. Like last club was scary. they have a quarterback, a kid named (Kellen) Lewis that can really run, and he throws the ball well."

"They have a big wideout a kid named (James) Hardy I believe it is, a 6'5", 6' 6" kid, that does a great job of catching the football. On both sides of the football and on special teams we're going to have to be prepared and do a great job and play our very best."

IU hopes to turn homecoming into something special. They'd love nothing more than to upset the Spartans, who will likely be favored in this one, and stamp themselves as a bowl contender.

Spartans defensive end Jonal St. Dic is especially focused on Lewis. "This is a different team. Indiana's quarterback is very athletic and I can't do as much with inside moves.

Saint-Dic believes IU is more of a threat on the ground than through the air. "I don't think (Lewis') arm is that strong, but it's Indiana and we're looking towards them. We're going to have a good practice this week and we're going to go to the game and try to do our best."

This time, there's more at stake than just the Old Brass Spitoon that the two teams have played for the last 26 seasons. With Hoppner back at the helm, IU is squarely pointing at this as a must win for the Hoosiers bowl hopes.

"I'm challenging the Hoosier Nation to pack 'The Rock' with 50,000 screaming fans when we play Michigan State," Hoeppner said. " It's always a lot more fun to have the fans with us on our journey to Play 13."

While Hoppner is taking some solid first steps to restore the pride of Indiana football, he has a big challenge in trying to knock off a MSU team that has won four-in-a-row against the Hoosiers and eight of the last nine.

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