Indiana football fans, players focus on Michigan
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana football coach Bill Lynch wants his players focused solely on football all week.
Good luck, given the hype in Bloomington.
With No. 19 Michigan heading to town for Saturday's Big Ten opener (3:30 p.m., ESPNU), fans are asking the one question players won't: Can the Hoosiers pull the upset?
Indiana's fans have been pointing to this game as the season's first big measuring stick since the schedule came out, and many believe it will dictate how the rest of this season goes.
It's too hot a topic for even Lynch to discuss.
"This team has been an easy team to coach," Lynch said. "That's why I'm confident they understand that the level of play and intensity has to go up."
There is reason for hope in Bloomington. A year ago, the Hoosiers came within a whisker of winning their first game at Ann Arbor since 1967. Tate Forcier ruined the celebration with a 26-yard TD pass to Martavious Odoms with 2:29 to go, giving the Wolverines an unforgettable 36-33 victory that kept their winning streak intact.
"I remember what happened," Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell said with a wry smile after Saturday night's win over Akron.
Fifty-three weeks later, the storylines are virtually the same. Both teams are unbeaten. Both have proven they can score. Both are concerned about giving up too many points, and Michigan is ranked, again, while Indiana is not.
What has changed is the perception of the game. A year ago, nobody outside Indiana's locker room thought the Hoosiers could be competitive against one of their long-standing nemeses. Now, it's anybody's guess.
The conversations have returned to 1987, the last time Indiana beat Michigan, or 1990, the last time the Hoosiers started 4-0, or 2001, the last time Indiana won its Big Ten opener.
But the Hoosiers (3-0) aren't talking about any of that.
"Any team we play, we think we can beat the team. We never go into a game saying, 'I hope we win,'" receiver Terrance Turner said Monday. "If you're a competitor you want to win every game you play. We have more and more players with that same attitude."
The Hoosiers have scored at least 35 points in all three games this season, and have had winning margins of 15 points or more all three times as well. Indiana has stayed relatively healthy, and Chappell is playing like a fifth-year senior, completing 72.4 percent of his passes, while throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
And now, against a much better opponent than Towson, Western Kentucky or Akron, Chappell knows he and his teammates have to be even better if they want to rewrite history.
"I watched quite a lot of film yesterday, and I've tried to get somewhat comfortable with them," Chappell said. "They are similar to last year defensively. I think they're better. I think they had a lot of young guys last year and they were getting used to that system. So, now they've had a year in it and they're moving around a lot. They're a good team."
Good enough to give the Hoosiers worry.
Indiana's defense has given up several big plays to mobile quarterbacks during the first month of the season, and it has struggled to stop the run. Last weekend, Akron churned out 160 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, something that must get fixed before Denard Robinson and the Wolverines (4-0) come to town this weekend — even if Robinson is gimpy after bruising his left knee.
But will that be enough for the Hoosiers to, finally, beat Michigan after 16 consecutive losses? Perhaps.
"Everything has to be ratcheted up because (Michigan) is a team on a roll," Lynch said. "I had an opportunity to watch all four of their games and they really have improved each week. Denard Robinson is scary good.
"We have our work cut out for us, but I know our guys are pretty excited about it."