Thursday, September 8, 2011

For IU Football, Beat Virginia, Jump Start Season

So here we are, watching Indiana fans hope the Ball State loss doesn’t portend a disastrous season, listening to Colts fans worry that their season didn’t end the moment Peyton Manning went under the knife, and contemplating how the Hoosiers can use Saturday’s Virginia game as a catalyst for a big season.

IU football history suggests that losing to Ball State in the manner the Cream ‘n Crimson did -- getting dominated by the Cardinals’ offensive and defensive lines -- means 3-9 misery, at best. That would mean a 2-2 non-conference schedule and a fourth straight 1-7 Big Ten mark.

Oh, no.

Suggesting doesn’t mean doing. The Hoosiers can bounce back in a big way, and while Virginia will never be confused with Virginia Tech, it would be a significant victory. The Cavaliers are a program on the rise with a huge offensive line and plenty of skill players. They’re also awfully young. They played 12 true freshmen in their opening day crunching of William & Mary, the third most in college football behind Texas (18) and Auburn (13). Indiana played 10.

It’s important to note that IU didn’t stink up Lucas Oil Stadium in its Ball State loss. It didn’t have a turnover and committed only three penalties for 44 yards. Coaches push for perfection, but never get it. Still, those two stats come pretty close.

It hurt not forcing a turnover, but you can still win that way. What you can’t win with is upfront submission. There’s no way the Cardinals should have manhandled the Hoosiers, but they did. If coach Kevin Wilson is lucky, that was an aberration. If it’s the norm, well, 3-9 might be charitable.

IU has to play with passion and toughness. It would help if it could break the will of opponents through sheer nastiness (within the rules, of course).

Don’t take our word for it. Here’s what Wilson had to say.

“For us to do well in our league -- we can do all the spread, the shotgun, the no-huddle stuff -- you’ve got to have a physical presence. You’ve got to run it. To do those things, whether it be Virginia, for us to move our program forward, we can be wide open, we can throw it. Ed (Wright-Baker) did okay in his first start. We’ve got nice receivers. But we’ve gotta run the ball and stop the run. If not, you’re going to die a slow death in college football.”

Wilson does not want that kind of football death. He’s determined to build a winner, and he has the resources to do it. Do the Hoosiers have the resolve? That is the lingering question.

“Whether we have to put 12 people up there with butcher knives and run the wishbone,” he said, “we’ve got to run the ball and we’ve got to stop the run. We’ll keep working at it because we’ve got to. You can have all the excuses, all the talk about stats, but that’s what it comes down to.”

That leads us to passion. Wilson said IU lacked fire against Ball State, which is hard to believe considering it was the season opener in one of the great football facilities of all time. If you struggle to understand how that happened, imagine what the coaches think.

Take Mark Hagen, the defensive tackles coach and a former Hoosier linebacking standout. He thrived from passion, an attribute he’s carried over to his coaching. He said he saw the problem at halftime when he rejoined the team after the spending the first half coaching in the press box.

“At halftime it was quiet, unemotional. I couldn’t understand that. We had the lead, but we still had a lack of energy and juice. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if they were still feeling their way a little bit with a new system.

“On defense you can really help your cause by being into it, being emotional, being energized. You can feed off each other. Don’t sit around waiting for somebody to make a play. Make it.”

Then Hagen offered a prediction, and if it didn’t include a victory guarantee, don’t diminish what he said.

“We all have a role. We have to be into it. You’ll see a different team on Saturday.”

One can only hope.


Here's a small adjustment to the men's basketball schedule. Savannah State is now set for Nov. 19. Gardner Webb is on Nov. 21. ESPN will carry the Kentucky game.

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