Inside Slant: Indiana

The Sports Xchange gives an insiders look at Northwestern's next opponent, the Indiana Hoosiers.

Indiana is 1-7 heading into this week's Homecoming game vs. Northwestern. The Hoosiers have dropped five straight games and have officially been eliminated from bowl contention. Many observers believe that coach Kevin Wilson and his staff already have turned to 2012 and will use the rest of this year as an extended preseason, the goal being to get as many young kids experience as possible to build the program for the future.

Wilson, however, isn't quite willing to go that far. He still wants to win games, obviously, and doing so would provide a boost to morale around Memorial Stadium. He has pointed out to his team the number of teams in the Big Ten that have won just one or two games in a season, and he has pushed his ballclub not to make that list. He also believes he owes it to his players to continue to put the best possible team on the field regardless of the developmental benefits they might acquire.

"We want to win every game," Wilson says. "What we think game-wise or schematically or practice-wise, whatever it is, we want to do whatever is going to give us a chance to win Saturday."

However, it's not as if Wilson isn't looking forward a bit.

"With young guys and the guys that aren't playing, we look at what we're doing (with them)," Wilson says. "For example, everyone who isn't playing gets a (weight) lift on Friday instead of coming to a special teams or defensive meeting. After practice we have a boatload of guys getting an extra shake for gaining weight and stuff like that. You're always building forward."

IU's young players, meanwhile, say they aren't looking toward next year, either, and dismiss the idea that the Hoosiers have nothing to play for over the next couple of weeks. Sophomore WR Kofi Hughes, who is emerging as a star this season, says Indiana is working harder than ever.

"Coach (Wilson) just stresses that we have four games left," Hughes says. "We have two at home, and we need to win those two games. We still have things to play for in that we can end the season on a good note while building momentum for next year."

That idea of winning at home has been one Wilson has been pounding into his team in recent weeks, and beating Northwestern, a team IU has played tough in recent years, would go a long way toward helping Indiana build some confidence. In other words, although Wilson doesn't want to say he's looking toward 2012 at this point, everything he will be doing from now until the end of the season will be designed to find more success next season that IU has found this year.

"Except for the seniors leaving, we are reasonably young at a lot of spots, so you want to make some strides," Wilson said. "At the same time, we haven't by any means said we're looking toward 2012. We're not committing everything there as much as we are focusing on winning this week. That has been the motto each week moving forward, and that is our plan. In fairness to the seniors, we need to win against Northwestern, and we need to win Homecoming. That's what we're making the commitment to, and we'll see if we're good enough to get it done."


--Indiana is 44-48-6 on Homecoming weekend, winning six of the last eight years.

--IU is 8-7 all-time vs. this week's opponent, Northwestern, on Homecoming weekend, including a 21-19 win over the Wildcats Oct. 25, 2008.

--Indiana co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Kevin Johns has spent two stints as an assistant with Northwestern, first from 1999-2001, then from 2004-10.

- -IU has split its last 36 meetings with NU in Bloomington, and the last seven battles between the two teams have been decided by a combined 26 points.

SERIES HISTORY: Northwestern leads 44-34-1 (last meeting, 2010, 20-17 Northwestern).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Indiana's offense got a spark from true freshman QB Tre Roberson, whose mobility brings a different facet to the field. Roberson is a decent passer on the run, he has the quickness and speed to turn broken plays into gains, and he has given IU's receivers more of a reason to believe they can be effective. IU's offensive line faces a bit less pressure with Roberson under center because he has the ability to escape would-be tacklers. Indiana's running game has started to blossom under RB Stephen Houston, who has established himself as IU's best back.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hoosiers are coming off back-to-back dismal outings on defense and aren't playing with much confidence. DT Adam Replogle is starting to make an impact inside, and he needs to be more of a factor to disrupt Northwestern's backfield, but Indiana's secondary is the biggest question mark. The Hoosiers are young and prone to mistakes, and they can't afford to have mental lapses early on. IU's pass rush needs to step up its game vs. NU's short-passing attack by collapsing the pocket quickly.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There aren't a lot of 4.0 (students) on campus who just go to class and take tests. You work at it as a student. If you want to be a 4.0 football player, you have to put some time in." -- Head coach Kevin Wilson on the importance of putting in work in the film room during the season.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Indiana, Oct. 29 -- Indiana takes on Northwestern on Homecoming weekend in Bloomington looking to snap a five-game losing streak. The Hoosiers have given the Wildcats everything they could handle over the past two seasons, and they believe they are due for a victory vs. a Northwestern squad that has dropped four straight games and has been generous to opposing offenses on defense.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Hoosiers must establish the run early with RB Stephen Houston and convert on third downs to stay on the field, and QB Tre Roberson must avoid mistakes. Roberson can't try to do too much and commit turnovers in the process, and he has to be a game manager as often as he is a playmaker. More than anything, Indiana's defense must be ready to play tough vs. the pass and force the Wildcats out of their comfort zone by running the football. If IU's defense doesn't show up, Indiana won't have a chance at winning.


QB Tre Roberson -- Roberson will be making his second-career start vs. Northwestern and his first in front of a home crowd. Roberson's speed and quickness will make him difficult to contain, and he will look to make some plays early to give IU some energy.

CB Greg Heban -- Heban has been solid this year, but he also has made some mistakes that have led to big plays. The Hoosier need Heban to play like the lock-down defender IU's coaching staff would like him to be to boost IU's defense.

LB Leon Beckum -- Beckum's athleticism will make him critical to covering NU's short-passing game, especially when the Wildcats run crossing patterns. Beckum must recognize where the ball is going quickly to eliminate big plays.


--WR Damarlo Belcher is still limited by a knee injury, and the Hoosiers are preparing as if he won't be available vs. Northwestern.

--C Will Matte is day-to-day with a knee injury, and freshman Collin Rahrig could start for the Hoosiers even if Matte is close to healthy.

--QB Tre Roberson earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for his outing vs. Iowa last week to become the third Hoosier to win the award this season. RB D'Angelo Roberts and WR Shane Wynn previously took home the honor.

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