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COLUMN

IU has football choice -- mediocrity or quality

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Kickoff: Indiana at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

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

Hoosiers face vulnerable Michigan

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 12:01 am

Indiana has hit the football season's halfway point and mediocrity looms large.

So do postseason possibilities.

The Hoosiers are 3-3 and need three victories to become bowl eligible.

Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State are on the road. Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue are at Memorial Stadium.

IU faces Michigan on Saturday, then has its second bye before its postseason-or-bust stretch run.

“We've got a one-week deal and then an open date,” coach Kevin Wilson says. “We can put all our cards on our next opponent, then we can take a deep breath, regroup, look at where we're at, and make that final run.”

So what is the Cream and Crimson outlook?

Start with this:

Michigan is vulnerable. Repeat it until you believe it.

Michigan is 5-1 and lucky to be clinging to a top-25 ranking, and luck only involves the coaches' poll. It is out of the AP poll.

The Wolverines are not Alabama, Oregon or Ohio State. They have big-time flaws. They should have lost to Akron and Connecticut, for goodness sakes. They did lose to Penn State after blowing a late lead in regulation, then missing two overtime field goals that would have won it.

Quarterback Devin Gardner is a talented guy and a turnover waiting to happen. He threw two interceptions against Penn State, which gives him 10 on the season. In overtime at Penn State, kicker Brendan Gibbons missed one field goal and had another blocked, a glitch that could resurface under pressure. If IU can push the Wolverines to a fourth-quarter frenzy, that might make a difference.

Still, the Hoosiers have lost 17 straight games to Michigan. They haven't won at the Big House since 1967. History and tradition are anchors that are hard to overcome. So, too, are the occasional Cream and Crimson bad breaks in the Big House.

Remember Michigan receiver Anthony Carter and his heartbreaking TD catch in 1979? How about the phantom pass interference call against the Hoosiers in 1991 that so incensed coach Bill Mallory that the Big Ten suspended him for a game for his criticism of officials?

The irony was so great – Mallory NEVER did anything like that – that feisty basketball coach Bob Knight joked about it.

But those are glitches from another century. Wilson is doing all he can to break away from that.

“There will always be a glitch or two along the way,” he says. “You've got to overcome it. You've got to be deep enough to overcome it.”

And yet, glitches keep coming.

The offensive line is a banged-up shadow of what it could have been. Right guard Dan Feeney (foot) is out for the season, and right tackle Peyton Eckert (back) likely is. Left guards Bernard Taylor and David Kaminski have battled injuries. Right tackle Ralston Evans and right guard Jake Reed got hurt against Michigan State.

“They got a little nicked up with an ankle and a twist up there,” Wilson says of Evans and Reed. “I don't know if it's major stuff. I hope not. We're getting thin. At the same time, we'll put another dude out there and keep going.”

The defense again showed there's no tackle a Hoosier can't miss. Michigan State was not Wisconsin – which looms on the schedule in five weeks – but it ran like it hadn't all season by dictating play, chewing up the clock and thriving on third downs (10 for 14 on conversions).

“We didn't make the plays we're supposed to make,” cornerback Tim Bennett says.

So where does the defense go from here? Where it always goes: the practice field and film study room.

“We have to learn from it,” Bennett says. “Look at it on film and try to get better. Try to improve as a defense. You can't harp on it now. We just have to get better.”

Wilson has a to-do list of what constitutes "better."

“You can't let them run it down your throat. You need a run game. It's third-down conversions on both sides (IU's conversion rate and that of its opponents). And you've got to get stops.”

In the end, IU has another winnable game. It is a chance for the Hoosiers to make history as they did nine days earlier against Penn State, when they beat the Nittany Lions for the first time in school history.

They can be mediocre or good. It's up to them.

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.