BLOOMINGTON – Does Saturday's Penn State game have a must-win feel to you?
It does. Admit it. Indiana is 2-2 and can't afford to go 2-3 if it wants to become bowl eligible. That would mean a 4-3 Big Ten finish and if you've followed IU over the years, you know how challenging that is.
The last time the Hoosiers won four conference games in a season was in 2001. They haven't won five Big Ten games since 1993.
And yet …
The Hoosiers aren't ready to embrace must-win pressure because they don't have to. They push perspective and practicality. Let others worry about big-picture scenarios.
“Not necessarily,” safety Mark Murphy says. “Every game is a must-win for us. We want to prove what we are every game.”
Proof can't come from stress, receiver Shane Wynn says. The team is refreshed, relaxed and re-energized after a bye week, he adds.
“We need to play the way we practice," he says. "In practice nobody is afraid to make a mistake. Nobody is afraid to do something wrong. We're all having fun.
“In a game you've got that tight edge that something bad is going to happen. You can't do that. Just play more lean. Just have fun.”
How do you do that?
“Tell guys to relax,” Wynn says. “Talk to them like you would in practice. Tell them to loosen up. Play how you practice.”
If it were only that easy.
Penn State is 3-1 with a cannon-armed freshman quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) and a big-play receiver (Allen Robinson) with a history of hurting Hoosiers. Last year Robinson caught 10 passes for 197 yards and three TDs against them.
Oh, yes. The Nittany Lions are 16-0 against IU.
Coach Kevin Wilson downplays the history. Does he have a choice? He has enough to worry about with Penn State's personnel, even if it is depleted because of NCAA scholarship sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“Our team is better,” Wilson says. “When you play in this league, you're going to play good teams. We're playing a good team. Our talent level is where it is. We've worked it. We've developed it.
“We coached our guys (during bye week) like a winning team and the things they need to do to improve and to win. Our guys have the attitude we want. They're working like we want. We as coaches have got to put them in good position.
“It's not about trying to do something we've never done (beat Penn State). It's taking advantage of these days before we go 60 minutes against a good team, do our best and see what happens.”
That best, Murphy says, includes being physical and stopping the run.
“We have to keep building our physicality and stop the run,” he says. “In our two losses (Navy and Missouri) we couldn't stop the run. It's something we've focused on.”
A cynic would say IU has focused on stopping the run for years. It was a spring, summer and preseason camp emphasis. Results remain discouraging: The Hoosiers allow 247.8 rushing yards a game to rank last in the Big Ten.
Penn State, meanwhile, averages 197 rushing yards and 264.2 passing yards.
“They have a good offensive line," Murphy says. "They've got a great young quarterback with a great arm. He's been playing well. They're very balanced. So you have to stop a little bit of everything.”
As for that must-win stuff …
“Our goal is not to have a winning record, not to make a bowl game, not to be in the Rose Bowl. It's to be a little better every day.”
Georgia receiver commits
IU got its second wide receiver commitment, and 11th overall, with Georgia's Coray Keel picking the Hoosiers over Minnesota, Kansas State and Illinois.
Keel is rated as a two-star prospect by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service.
He joins Fishers' J-Shun Harris, a three-star receiving prospect who committed earlier.