With four wins and three games remaining, Indiana’s players have started to realize the pressing nature of returning to the bowl season. Only a handful of players were contributors during Indiana’s 2015 and 2016 bowl appearances, and as the nation’s 19th-youngest team, there is bowl season terminology to be learned. First, however, there are two more games to be won. The Hoosiers face a must-win opportunity in Maryland at Memorial Stadium this Saturday at noon.
“A win this Saturday would definitely be big,” freshman running back Stevie Scott said. “If we get this W this week, we just need one more game to be bowling, as they would say. It’s my first year so I guess bowling is the term. If we can get that win and look forward to Purdue and Michigan and pull those games out.”
Following nine consecutive weeks of football, this Indiana team is fresh off its bye week. Big Ten scheduling did no favors to Tom Allen’s program, gifting the Hoosiers with the conference’s latest open week. It came so late that cornerback Raheem Layne forgot that it existed.
“Honestly I kind of forgot about the bye week until after we played the (Minnesota) game,” Layne said. “Like oh yeah, now we have the week off coming up to take care of our bodies. That sounded like music to my ears. That was good to hear.”
For the first time this season, the Hoosiers addressed the bowl season at weekly media availability. It’s a delicate subject, but a realistic conversation to have during Week 11. Admitted or not, a bowl appearance would be deemed a success for this Indiana team. The Hoosiers are young — both in age and experience, and serious injuries have not helped. IU lost its top two preseason running backs in Morgan Ellison (dismissed) and Cole Gest (torn ACL), as well as dynamic freshman quarterback Michael Penix (torn ACL). Senior defensive tackle Jacob Robinson has also missed the past six games to a knee injury.
“Just what I needed,” Layne said. “To rest up so we can finish strong these next three games and get to our bowl game.”
The realistic path to six wins for Indiana starts Saturday against a Maryland team that totaled 100 total yards of offense in a 24-3 home loss to Michigan State last week. The Hoosiers had their fair share of struggles against an elite Spartan defense earlier this season, but managed to total 301 yards offensively.
Offensively, the Terrapins are dangerous on the ground. Freshman quarterback Kasim Hill averages only 17.5 passing attempts per game, and relies heavily upon proven running back Ty Johnson (2,597 career rushing yards) and speedy freshman tailback Anthony McFarland (6.9 yards per carry). Johnson, however, is questionable for Saturday after missing last week’s game vs. Michigan State. Coupled with adverse off-the-field complications, Maryland has struggled with consistency. Prior to scoring only three points against Michigan State, the Terps tallied 63 points and 712 yards of offense against Illinois.
With interim head coach Matt Canada in charge, Layne mentioned the importance of Indiana communicating on defense. This Maryland offense carries a high tendency of pre-snap shift changes to generate mismatches.
“They force you to be extremely disciplined,” Allen said. “Even though it’s not an option offense, the way that they shift, move, adjust, motion, different things that they do, it forces you to be extremely disciplined. If you get out of position, they’re very, very athletic. You make one guy miss, it’s a big, big play.”
There is urgency on both sides. Maryland, despite the odds, is one win away from bowl eligibility. With Penn State and Ohio State looming on its schedule following Indiana, this is also the Terps’ most realistic chance to bowl. Stevie Scott laughed when he was told who Maryland had remaining.
“They’re definitely focused for this game then, for sure,” Scott said with a laugh.
IU redshirt freshman Bryant Fitzgerald said Monday that the reset button has been hit. Internally, those disappointing losses to Penn State and Minnesota are forgotten, especially with last week off. With the bye, local players were able to see family and friends, watch football, and take a breath.
In his first season, Fitzgerald is taking this final stretch one game at a time. A trip to Ann Arbor looms next week before the season finale against Purdue in Bloomington. IU’s season still carries a pulse, but four consecutive losses have generated the need for urgency.
“They say we need two more wins to make a bowl game,” Fitzgerald said. “But our focus is just on 1-0 every week and staying hungry.”