BLOOMINGTON | Indiana's hopes of playing for a Big Ten championship came to an end in a humiliating 62-14 loss to Wisconsin over the weekend.
Indiana could have gained control of the Leaders Division race with a win at home. Even though things have been better for Indiana this year, the Hoosiers ended up getting the kind of beating they've traditionally received from the Badgers.
Now, after all that talk about playing in the Big Ten title game, if the Hoosiers don't recover quickly, they won't even make it to postseason play. Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) needs to win Saturday at Penn State and the following week at Purdue to become bowl eligible.
Of course, last season a bowl game wasn't even a thought. Now that the Hoosiers have had some success with two Big Ten wins this season a year after losing every conference game, coach Kevin Wilson says it is important for the program to continue to take positive steps.
He said the matchup with Penn State (6-4, 4-2) provides a great opportunity.
"Would love to see these men come back and respond to our standard," Wilson said. "They've set the standard. Well, we've set it, they've embraced it. Would love to see these guys come back and have the week we need to have. If we're going to improve, this is the week to see what we've got."
First, the Hoosiers need to learn from the loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers bludgeoned the Hoosiers for 564 yards rushing on 64 attempts. Wisconsin's ground game was so dominant that the Badgers passed just seven times. Of those 564 yards rushing, more than 400 were gained on 14 rushing attempts that the Indiana coaching staff calls "explosion plays."
On offense, the Hoosiers fell well short of the big numbers they had put up throughout Big Ten play, finishing with just 294 total yards.
"I do think we pressed a little bit," offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. "I think as a quarterback, you can squeeze it a little too tight, want it a little too bad, receivers just one-arming. It's just a little bit of a young team that probably didn't play their best when we needed them to play their best."
Wilson said Indiana's 25-for-47 passing isn't good enough because they missed a lot of the short passes they use to substitute for a running game. Johns said the Hoosiers were close on a number of plays, but they need to be sharper.
"The scoreboard looks worse, but if we get those plays back, we probably make those plays nine out of 10 times," he said. "So moving forward, we need to get that execution back, that precision with where we're putting the football, receivers running the routes, running backs keying the right guys, sitting in the right holes. We were sloppy Saturday and we need to clean that up this week."
Saturday's game at Penn State will be a test. The Nittany Lions, depleted after NCAA penalties following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, have had a surprisingly successful season. They likely will be hungry after blowing a 14-point lead in a 32-23 loss at Nebraska. Penn State has played inspired football all season under new coach Bill O'Brien, despite being banned from postseason play.
The Hoosiers already have a road win in the conference, a 31-17 win at Illinois on Oct. 27. Now, Wilson wants to see Indiana beat a traditional power in front of a big crowd.
"If you're going to be a winning program, you've got to learn to win on the road and if you're going to win in the Big Ten, you've got to learn to win in challenging road environments, big crowds that are loud," he said.