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Indiana seeks repeat after Penn State win

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Kickoff: Indiana at Michigan State, noon, Saturday.
Radio: 1250 AM

Online:For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Watershed moment requires more victories

Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 8:14 am

BLOOMINGTON – This is not your father's Indiana football team.

You know that, right?

These guys might – MIGHT – be able to sustain Big Ten-game-winning defense. If they do, well, you've seen the Hoosiers score. You know what guys like Cody Latimer, Tevin Coleman, Kofi Hughes, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson can do.

You can imagine the possibilities.

A winning record.

A bowl game.

A GOOD bowl game.

Take, for instance, Saturday's 44-24 must-win over Penn State. Hoosier defenders hit hard and often. They disrupted with guys like Tim Bennett, Mark Murphy, Greg Heban, David Cooper and T.J. Simmons.

Bennett, by the way, might be the most picked-on cornerback in America. He leads the nation with 14 pass breakups, including four against the Nittany Lions. He's not perfect, but, hey, YOU try covering Allen Robinson.

In the aftermath of IU's first-ever win over Penn State -- it is now 1-16 against the Nittany Lions -- there was no Hoosier celebration. There was no reason for one. IU (3-2) has better teams to play and beat. Penn State (3-2), vulnerable because of NCAA sanctions, is not a powerhouse of Joe Paterno prime. It lacks depth and elite talent. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a future star who threw a school-record 55 passes (completing 340 yards and three touchdowns), but he's still a true freshman without the veteran seasoning he will one day have.

So what was the significance? Sudfeld, the young and improving quarterback (321 passing yards, two touchdowns) had some thoughts.

“I don't think it's overly significant. We expect this. We knew they were a good team. We knew we had our work cut out. We felt had a good chance to win. That's what happened.

“We're not shocked by it. We want to keep doing it.”

Historical perspective is nice for, well, historians. The Hoosiers have more immediate concerns -- like winning at Michigan State (4-1) next Saturday.

“It's nice to win because if you lose, the morale could go down,” Sudfeld said. “It's good to get a Big Ten win, but we didn't over-think it. We came to work and try to beat Penn State. That's what we did.”

Or, as Hughes put it after his four-catch, 85-yard, one clutch 37-yard TD catch:

“No, it's not significant except for the part that it's good for (athletic director) Fred Glass and for IU and all the guys who played before us. It's great for the school that we beat Penn State and as a senior because we had never beaten them, but in terms of the whole history thing, we didn't want to harp on that. We wanted to play.”

Now the Hoosiers have a lot to play for. They have seven remaining Big Ten games and there's no reason they can't win four of them -- Michigan State, Minnesota (4-2), Illinois (3-2) and Purdue (1-4).

Of those, only the game with the Spartans is on the road.

REALITY CHECK: Wisconsin (3-2) is too powerful, Ohio State (6-0) too talented, Michigan (5-0) too explosive. Ratcheting up the upset improbability factor -- all are on the road.

But why spoil the optimism from an all-things-are-possible moment. Indiana is three wins from bowl eligibility, four from guaranteeing a winning record. Now the focus is on Michigan State, which has beaten IU four straight times and eight of the last nine meetings.

"We didn't play great or perfect,” Wilson said, “but we did play solid. Next week we'll get a chance to do something that's never been done because this team has not beaten the team we'll be getting ready to play. So each week it's new and unknown."

Yes, IU had a historic victory. Yes, it could be a season changer, perhaps even a watershed moment for a perennially struggling program. There's only one way to ensure that it is -- keep winning.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.