No matter how much everyone around the IU football program tries to say Saturday night’s matchup with Missouri is just another game on the schedule, it’s not.
It’s a chance for IU to make a statement.
It’s a chance to show that the football program is actually on the rise.
People doubted this team after its loss to Navy. After just one loss and a poor showing by the defense, lots of people chalked the season up to be a wash, just like almost every other IU football season.
Then, the Hoosiers came back and beat a solid Bowling Green team 42-10.
With a win against SEC foe Mizzou, fans, alumni and Big Ten teams will have to turn their heads and pay attention to IU football.
The program won’t be just a joke around the country anymore.
No, Missouri is not a dominant SEC team. The Tigers went just 5-7 (2-6 in SEC play) last year, and, let’s be honest, they belong in the Big Ten anyway.
But, the fact remains they are in the vaunted SEC, the conference occupied by the college football gods.
The Hoosiers aren’t looking at it like that.
“I just think that we’re playing another school that we have to prepare for and another hard working school and another school that’s good,” sophomore running back Tevin Coleman said.
“We just take it as any other game,” junior wide receiver Cody Latimer said. “We’re not going to make this a big game. We’re just going to go out there and play. They’re a great team, we’re a good team. It’s going to be a good show.”
There’s no way that’s what the players are really thinking going into this game.
This is the only Big Ten-SEC matchup of the regular season.
“We haven’t thought about that,” Latimer said. “We’re just taking this as any other game.”
It’s the first time IU has played an SEC team since 2005, when it played the biggest joke of an SEC football program in Kentucky.
This is a chance for IU to show off its aerial attack featuring sophomore
quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who is fourth in the nation in passing touchdowns and seventh in quarterback rating. By the way, he’s only started one game.
It’s a chance for Coleman and senior back Stephen Houston to show their ability to run through holes like they did last week, when they combined to rush for 284 yards — the first time two IU backs have rushed for 100+ since 2003.
Toledo scored 23 points two weeks ago against Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The IU offense should be able to put up a pretty big number.
The biggest test should be the IU defense against Mizzou dual-threat quarterback James Franklin. Can the defense manage to stop him both in the air and when a play breaks down and he decides to run?
Again, this game is a chance for that defense — that much maligned defense — to prove itself on a national stage.
IU has all the momentum in the world right now. The offense is one of the best in the nation, and the defense is coming off what was arguably its best game during the IU Coach Kevin Wilson era.
“It was great momentum,” Latimer said. “We fell off with the one game. It was a little minor fall off. Coming back with a big win helped us pretty much. It gets us prepared for this game.”
That’s exactly what the Hoosiers need because it’s not just another game.
And somewhere deep down, they know that.
My prediction: IU takes some early momentum and makes a statement game, beating Missouri 38-31. The defense will struggle at times to contain Franklin, and his rushing ability will keep the Tigers in the game. Sudfeld will lead IU on a clutch drive late in the game that will culminate in a touchdown to secure the victory.
Follow columnist Robby Howard on Twitter @robbyhoward1.
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