Get ready for the game that will, in all likelihood, determine Indiana’s football bowl prospects.
Yeah. IU (4-2) at Illinois (3-3) today is that big.
Here’s the deal. If the Hoosiers can’t win this game, they might not win another game until 2011. Check that. Penn State is really, really bad. Indiana has a chance to beat the Nittany Lions, but that’s a discussion for another day.
The Hoosiers don’t have the defense to handle Northwestern’s pass-happy attack or Wisconsin’s power game. Iowa is too physical. Purdue has basically owned Indiana over the last 13 years, and attacks quarterbacks as if that’s its birthright.
If this is going to be a special Cream ‘n Crimson season, it has to begin today.
In so many ways, today’s game is strength against strength –- IU’s potent offense against Illinois’ unexpectedly good defense. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing. The Illini are third against the pass. IU averages 34.2 points a game. Illinois allows 18.5 points.
It’s also a game of weakness against weakness –- Indiana’s vulnerable defense against Illinois’ mediocre offense.
Here’s the kicker –- the Illini have done this against the nation’s second-toughest schedule. The Hoosiers have thrived against patsies. Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State are a combined 3-23.
Indiana should have beaten Michigan. That was a very winnable game. Ohio State was not. The Hoosiers weren’t going to win in Columbus. Wasn’t going to happen.
So now they face their last best opportunity. Are they up to the task? Perhaps coach Bill Lynch needs to channel the spirit of Al Pacino from the football movie, Any Given Sunday.
Pacino gave one of the great movie speeches of all time when he told his team, and we’re paraphrasing a little bit here:
“It all comes down to today. We’re in Hell, gentlemen. We can fight our way back into the light, one inch at a time…
“Life is a series of inches. The inches we need are all around us. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves to pieces for that inch.
“Add up all those inches and it makes the difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.
“In any fight, it’s the guy who is willing to die for that inch.”
The Hoosiers don’t need to die, but they do need to tackle in space, make big plays in big moments and win those inches. If they do, they win. If not, they won’t.
Yeah, it’s as simple as that.