Not the same old Hoosiers

By Derek Barichello

Indiana is a dangerous team, and like any dangerous task, the Illini will have to be careful if they want to come out of Bloomington victorious.

It could be easy for the Illini to get too caught up in the history of the series; they have won four of the last five meetings against the Hoosiers. It could also be easy for the Illini to overlook the Hoosiers, who are known more for their success in hoops, winning only three Big Ten games in three seasons. But as Illinois center Matt Maddox warned, this year’s squad is no ordinary Hoosiers team.

“You can’t go on old habits,” Maddox said. “That doesn’t mean anything for this year. They have an entirely new coaching staff, as do we, and it’s all going to be handled on Saturday.”

The Hoosiers, with new head coach Terry Hoeppner, have jumped out to their best start since 1994 with a 3-0 start. And although those three wins came to programs not known for football, they are coming off a 41-24 loss to No. 17 Wisconsin in their Big Ten opener, in which Hoeppner said there were points in the game when the Hoosiers played toe-to-toe with the top-25 team.

Indiana gave up 377 total yards in 62 plays, but 243 of those yards were in 10 plays, meaning the Hoosiers held Wisconsin down to 134 yards in 52 plays.

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“That is outstanding,” Hoeppner said. “The other 10 were completely horrendous. They had three touchdowns in those other 10 plays. How did those happen? Out of those 10 plays, two of them were good job, Wisconsin. For 52 plays, we played them better than many have played them.”

So what can the Hoosiers take from that?

“There is a level of confidence that was achieved because we went toe-to-toe with one of the better teams in this league,” Hoeppner said. “You have to go test yourself. We didn’t pass the test, but we didn’t fail. I think there is a resolve. I have seen it with a group at 7 a.m. They are lifting all day and coming in the office to watch tape. They are determined, resolved and eager to get the bad taste out of their mouth.”

Getting that bad taste out of their mouth, Hoeppner said, is a matter of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise on Saturday.

“It was too much of being up and down,” he said of the loss to Wisconsin. “You want your players to be consistent and be in a position to make plays when they present themselves. Ted Williams said he would only expect one perfect pitch through the course of the game, but he was going to put the bat on the ball when it came. You have to be ready when the time comes. When the play is set up and it works, you have to be able to make the throw.”

As for taking advantage of those opportunities, the Hoosiers have some of the most talented players in the Big Ten to step up when the time calls.

One of those players is wide receiver James Hardy, who has burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, catching 24 passes for 423 yards, with five of them going for touchdowns. His 105.75 yards per game receiving is the 15th best in the nation.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook said Hardy, who also plays basketball for the Hoosiers, is a tough guy to match up against because he can carry those skills from the basketball court onto the football field.

“A lot of times, basketball players when they play football, they don’t like to get in there and mix it up, but he gets in there and mixes it up and enjoys playing the game of football,” Zook said. “He uses his body to shield people. Whether we play zone or box out, they know how to do that. He does a nice job of getting his body into position.”

Hoeppner said it will be important for their quarterback, Blake Powers, to settle down in his second Big Ten start, after getting rattled last week against Wisconsin so he can make the big throws to Hardy.

“Blake is a tough guy,” Hoeppner said. “We have to keep him from being too hard on himself. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. I get too much credit and blame, and so does he. I remind him of that. That is the nature of the deal. That is why they call you the quarterback.”

Zook said he expects the Hoosiers to come out most downs in a single-back set on offense, with two wide receivers. He said sometimes they will spread the field with four wideouts but will remain in a single-back set.

As for the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers have had success at times shutting down the run, led by middle linebacker John Pannozzo and defensive end Victor Adeyanju.

Against Wisconsin, the 14th best running offense in the nation, the Hoosiers held them to 103 yards and held Kentucky to 77. But in their second game of the season, they allowed 408 yards on the ground to Division-II opponent Nicholls State.

For the Hoosiers, it is a matter of which team comes to play on Saturday.

“It was said about Larry Bird that he took the negatives and learned from them and took the positives and reinforced them,” Hoeppner said. “It will be something different this week. It won’t be the same offense or same defense. Our players understand that; they have a resolve and pride. They care about this team. I am looking forward to it.”