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Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

IU begins 2-game, single-elimination season

As the Hoosiers prepare for a date at Penn State, there’s an immense elephant in the room. 

The terms “must-win,” “do or die” and “win or go home” will have their place in every preview of Saturday’s game, but they aren’t points of emphasis within the Memorial Stadium walls.

“They know that. I don’t have to talk about that,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “We’re getting away from the things we have to do in order to be successful on Saturday (if we talk about it).”

IU needs two wins in as many games to be in the bowl-game discussion, and the final stretch will begin in hostile territory at Beaver Stadium, a place where IU has never won. In fact, the Hoosiers have never beaten the Nittany Lions, period. 

But neither past nor future will be on Lynch’s mind heading into Saturday.

“If we worry about how it’s a must-win at Penn State, we’re going to be caught up in that,” Lynch said. “I’m more worried about how we’re going to execute on third down.” 

Lynch pins the team’s performance on third down as one of the main reasons for their demise against Wisconsin last weekend, and with good reason. The IU offense was 4-of-11 in third-down situations, and the defense struggled to get off the field as well, allowing 11-of-17 Badger third-down plays to be converted. 

It’s been a problem all year, as the Hoosiers have moved the chains on just 37 percent of their third downs and allowed opponents to convert 47 percent of their tries. 

On a metaphorical scale, the Hoosiers also fell short on their season’s third down. IU is two blown leads and a short comeback attempt away from already being bowl-eligible, and now, it faces a fourth and long situation. 

They’re one loss away from losing all hope at a postseason berth in 2009, but their chances, while slim, aren’t as dire as they appear. 

Penn State, once favored to win the Big Ten, has had a disappointing season. Both of its losses have been against ranked opponents –the only ranked teams faced all year – on home turf. 

And legendary coach Joe Paterno seems to be hitting the senile slope, at least when it comes to IU football.

“Well, what they’re doing is what we’ve seen a lot of people do now with the really good running quarterback,” Paterno said. “It’s a version of the old triple option from the shotgun.”

Junior quarterback Ben Chappell has been called a lot of things throughout the year, but “good running quarterback” usually doesn’t make the cut. Perhaps he was thinking of junior wide receiver Mitchell Evans, but he has only attempted seven passes on the year, so considering him a quarterback would be a stretch. 

As for Lynch’s scouting report, there is no doubt how Penn State wins games. The Nittany Lions are first in scoring and passing defense and second in rushing defense in the Big Ten. 

It won’t get easier when the Hoosiers, who remain at the cellar of the conference in total defense, will line up against Penn State’s No. 2 offense, either.

The stats make it look like it could get ugly Saturday, but maybe the Hoosiers will be best with their backs against the wall. After all, the last time Lynch faced a similar situation, he went home with an Old Oaken Bucket and a bowl bid. 

A victory Saturday will cause a circus when Purdue comes to town next week, so that elephant they’ve been ignoring might come in handy.  

Prediction
When thinking of this game, I’m reminded of Dan Fouts in “The Waterboy” saying, “It’s the last game of the year – can’t hold anything back now!” The Hoosiers actually have two games left, but as far as their postseason dreams are concerned, it’s a one-game season. IU will have to empty the playbook to win this one.

Lynch has to come up with the game plan of his life to get IU’s first-ever win against Penn State, and there will have to be wrinkles, both offensively and defensively, no one has seen before. 

The Nittany Lions allow only 10.8 points per game – they have something to prove – and the Hoosiers have let surer things get away. But I haven’t picked an upset this year. So, what the heck?

 I’ll join Lynch in leaving it all on the field this week.   

IU 23 - PSU 21

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