Indiana at Illinois
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1190 AM
BLOOMINGTON – When head coach Tom Allen had his seniors stand in front of the rest of the Indiana football team Sunday afternoon, the message was clear: play for each other.
“The motivation for us is from within,” Allen said Monday. “It's the guys that are next to you. It's not about the challenge before you it's those who are beside you.”
With three games remaining, the Hoosiers are in do-or-die mode as they sit at 3-6, needing to win out to ensure a third straight bowl trip. The remaining schedule appears manageable with games at Illinois, home against Rutgers and at Purdue. However, games against lesser opponents can quickly become suspect when Indiana is favored.
Recently, Indiana allowed 42 points to a struggling Maryland team that was down to its third-string quarterback. Earlier in the season, before closing them out 27-0, the Hoosiers fumbled four times against Charleston Southern – an FCS team that is 5-4.
If the Hoosiers have proved anything this season, it's that anything can happen.
If Indiana hopes to pull off a three-game sweep to end the year, its hopes rest on the shoulders of quarterback Richard Lagow and receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr.
Lagow has looked solid since redshirt-freshman Peyton Ramsey – who remains day-to-day – went down with an injury against Maryland. Against No. 4 Wisconsin, Lagow finished 20 of 34 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Interceptions have been a concern throughout his career in Bloomington, but the strong-armed Texan was sharp against the Badgers.
“Any time you can get the ball out of your hands fast I think it gets us in a rhythm,” Lagow said. “If I'm back there, or Peyton's back there, or whoever's back there is holding the ball and not making quick decisions it hurts the offense.”
Cobbs has been arguably the Big Ten's top receiver, compiling 662 yards and six touchdowns on 59 receptions in nine games.
“Coming in from summer we've always had a connection,” Cobbs said of he and Lagow. “Just the fact that it's been a little bit since he's been out there, but during practice we always get reps together so it was just something that we always had and just connecting.”
But the Hoosiers must run the ball better. Morgan Ellison didn't see another snap after he fumbled with 14:11 left in the second quarter against Wisconsin and Alex Rodriguez led the way on the ground with just 29 yards.
“We just felt like that we got in too many situations where we had to throw the football,” Allen said. “You got to continue to be able to keep them off balance with the run and the pass game even though they're hard to run the football on. You still have to be effective in the run game.”
Indiana is trying to reach a third straight bowl game for the first time since 1988.
“I'm just trying to challenge everyone to take it day-by-day,” senior defensive back Chase Dutra said. “If you're not here to get better Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, just continuously getting better throughout the week and take this game by game then just don't come. You might as well just go home for the last three weeks.”