|Another win puts Hoosiers back on brink of reaching bowl game|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 07 October 2007 23:02|
Now, on the brink of becoming bowl eligible, the Hoosiers are starting to think big.
``Obviously, 5-1 is great and our goal all along was to get a bowl victory,'' receiver James Hardy said. ``But we don't just want to get to a bowl, we're trying to get to a big bowl.''
If there were any doubts Indiana was good enough to reach the postseason after losing at home to Illinois two weeks ago, they have all but vanished now.
Bill Lynch, who replaced the late Terry Hoeppner in June, is off to the best start of any first-year coach in school history. The Hoosiers now have two straight Big Ten wins and sit in the top half of the conference with a 2-1 mark.
They still have home games against Ball State and archrival Purdue, and road games at Michigan State and Northwestern. All Indiana needs to do is beat one of those teams, and if it plays like it did Saturday, it will likely deliver the biggest tribute to Hoeppner.
Against a suspect Minnesota defense, the Hoosiers did almost anything they wanted even though their top three running backs and starting center spent the entire second half on the sideline with injuries. Indiana still rushed for 228 yards and scored on seven of its first eight possessions.
While some may discount the performance because Minnesota's beleaguered defense has allowed more than 36 points per game, the Hoosiers remained cautious after a 40-20 rout.
``We'll watch the film Sunday and prepare for the next game,'' senior cornerback Leslie Majors said. ``We don't look back, we don't look ahead. We have one game this week and that's the most important game.''
There's also reason for the Hoosiers to play it cool.
A year ago, Indiana went to Minnesota with five wins and left after an embarrassing 63-26 blowout. That loss started a three-game tailspin, which left them one victory short of becoming bowl eligible.
Three days after the game, Hoeppner acknowledged the Hoosiers might have been too excited, and Indiana doesn't want to make the same mistake again, even with a bigger margin for error this season.
Next weekend, they'll visit Michigan State, losers of two straight including Saturday's 48-41 overtime loss to Northwestern. The Hoosiers hope the Brass Spittoon, the winner's trophy, also has a bowl ticket inside.
Given what the Hoosiers have already done, it just might.
Redshirt sophomore Bryan Payton, the Hoosiers' No. 4 back, rushed for a career-high 90 yards and three touchdowns against Minnesota, and kicker Austin Starr tied a single-game school record by making four field goals.
Quarterback Kellen Lewis, named the Big Ten's offensive player of the week twice this season, was his usually efficient self, finishing 24-of-36 for 235 yards with one touchdown and rushing 10 times for 75 yards. Hardy's 2-yard TD catch to open the game broke the school record for most consecutive games with a touchdown (seven), and Ray Fisher caught nine passes for 106 yards.
Even Minnesota (1-5, 0-3) could notice the difference.
``Indiana is a much improved team,'' Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. ``Coach Hep put together a heck of a squad, and Bill Lynch is doing a great job coaching them right now.''
At first, it looked as though the Hoosiers would have to survive a shootout.
Each team scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, but the Hoosiers took control in the second quarter when Starr made two field goals and Payton scored his second TD on a 1-yard run, dragging a Minnesota defender with him.
Coming into the game, Payton had run for only 149 yards in 2 1/2 seasons in Bloomington.
``I am really happy for a kid like that,'' Lynch said. ``A kid like that could look back and say 'I really wasn't ready. I didn't know it was going to happen today.' ``
Payton was ready.
In the second half, the Hoosiers expanded their lead to 33-14 behind two more field goals from Starr and answered Minnesota's last gasp - a 3-yard TD pass from Adam Weber to Eric Decker with 6:47 left in the game - with Payton's slashing 5-yard TD run to make it 40-20.
Weber was 24-of-44 for 280 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and Decker had eight catches for 74 yards.
The Hoosiers had a win and a chance to earn their first bowl trip since 1993.
``We're one win away from a bowl game, and I'm kind of anxious,'' Lewis said. ``It's the same place we were sitting as last year except we've got more games to play.''