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Thursday, June 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

COLUMN: Indiana football has talked the talk after week off – can it walk the walk at Michigan?

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The last time Indiana football took the field – Sept. 30 against Maryland in College Park – it suffered a 27-point loss, prompting questions about the direction of the program while falling to 2-3 on the season. 

In the hours that followed the Hoosiers’ return to Bloomington, an overwhelming need for change permeated throughout the locker room, leading to an eventful Sunday in which the program fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell for a lack of performance, ultimately replacing him with assistant Rod Carey. 

Behind the scenes, with coaching staff changes dominating headlines, Indiana’s players were busy, too, as the captains – sixth-year seniors Noah Pierre, Aaron Casey and Andre Carter, fifth-year senior Mike Katic and senior Cam Camper – organized a players-only meeting that afternoon. 

Sparked by three consecutive disappointing showings that included two losses and a narrow quadruple-overtime victory against an inferior opponent in the University of Akron, the Hoosiers’ veteran leaders wanted the team to rediscover the sense of urgency it played with earlier in the season. 

By the end of the meeting, Indiana’s players approached head coach Tom Allen with a wish: get rid of the starters vs. scout team backups approach in practice and let the starters face one another. 

“A common theme that kept coming up was guys just wanted to be able to compete against each other,” Pierre said Tuesday. “As a team, we spoke about wanting to get that full speed, that sense of urgency that we had coming out of camp.” 

Pierre noted several times the difference in energy between facing the starters as opposed to the scout team. When going against the starters, there’s more trash talk, and competitiveness and intensity increases. Pierre revealed there were some practices that turned lackadaisical because the scout team simply couldn’t create enough energy. 

Allen granted his team’s request during the bye week and implemented the structural changes into practice, which started Tuesday in advance of Saturday’s trip to Ann Arbor, where No. 2 Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) awaits for a noon kickoff. 

The Wolverines have won every game by at least 24 points. They’ve scored 97 points in the last two weeks alone, both coming in wins over Big Ten foes Nebraska and Minnesota. The margin of victory in those games was 38 and 42 points, respectively. 

Few expect Indiana to give Michigan a run for its money; the Wolverines are 34.5-point favorites and have a 96.6% chance to win, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. 

But the Hoosiers, fueled by the players-only meeting, are ready to watch their soul-searching Sunday pay off this weekend. 

“We’re coming in very confident,” sophomore running back Jaylin Lucas said Monday. “As long as we do what we’ve got to do, we’re able to battle against a team like Michigan. We’re ready to play.” 

Michigan hasn’t lost a regular season game since Oct. 30, 2021, against Michigan State. The Wolverines’ last home defeat came vs. Penn State on Nov. 28, 2020. 

Allen said Monday that Michigan is currently playing as well as anybody in America and has earned the right to be talked about as the No. 1 overall team, a title that currently belongs to the University of Georgia. 

Both Allen and Indiana defensive line coach Paul Randolph believe the Wolverines’ offensive line is one of, if not the best in college football. Michigan has the nation’s best defense, allowing only 6.7 points per game, nearly three points clear of the next closest team. 

Still, the Hoosiers, even with so much working against them, are determined to show they’ve made strides since the blowout defeat to Maryland and want to set a strong tone for the season’s second half. 

“I don’t fear any opponent,” senior defensive tackle Philip Blidi said. “We’ve got a lot to prove. Everything that we want is ahead of us. That win would really mean a lot to us because that’s taking our team in the next direction we want to go to.” 

Indiana’s last win over Michigan came Nov. 7, 2020. That’s the Hoosiers’ lone victory in the matchup since 1988. The Wolverines have won 26 of the last 27. 

Michigan has scored at least 30 points in every game this season. Indiana still hasn’t broken that threshold against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. 

Piece all the stats together – be it historical matchups, current level of play and offensive and defensive rankings – and the Hoosiers appear firmly at risk of being blown out. 

It’s fine to feel that way – but Indiana’s locker room doesn’t. The Hoosiers firmly believe they’re capable of giving the Big Ten’s biggest championship favorite a close game this Saturday, and with the excess of outside negativity surrounding the program, are ready to make a statement. 

“We respect those guys a lot, but we’re coming to the Big House, and we’re going to show them what the Hoosiers do,” Pierre said.

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana football season. 

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