With Northwestern up next, Hoosiers keep focus on winning
The Indiana Hoosiers are already eligible for a bowl game.
It's not enough.
With four games remaining, starting Saturday at home against Northwestern, players and coaches insist nothing has changed inside the locker room. They're still focused, still hungry, still trying to stack victories and rewrite history in what could be a breakthrough season for the program.
"I think right now with how well we're playing and the confidence that we have, I don't really envision complacency being too big of an issue," quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. "I didn't see it (Monday)."
The more important question might be how the Hoosiers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) respond to last week's eligibility-clinching win at Nebraska?
In previous years, seemingly significant victories have frequently been followed by deflating losses.
This time could be different.
Indiana is a double-digit favorite over the Wildcats (1-6, 0-5). Since appearing in last season's conference championship game as the West Division champs, Northwestern has lost seven of nine, five straight and finds itself needing to sweep their last five games just to become bowl-eligible. The Wildcats understand their plight as they seek their first road victory in nearly 12 months.
"We can do math. We know how many games we have left," defensive end Joe Gaziano said. "We know how many are needed to win to get to a bowl game. We're excited to play an opponent we haven't seen before, ready to get after it. Spirits are up. We know what we have to do to get to the postseason and we're playing a team that's been playing great ball."
Indiana has won three straight league games in the same season since for the first time since 1993. They've topped the 30-point mark seven times in eight games for the first time in school history. Receiver Whop Philyor is sixth in the Bowl Subdivision with 57 receptions and is the only player in the nation to post three games with at least 10 catches this season.
And all that despite continued uncertainty about who starts at quarterback — Ramsey or the injured Michael Penix Jr., who beat Ramsey for the starting job this summer.
But it hasn't created a problem for the Hoosiers yet and nobody expects that to change now.
"Last week was last week," Philyor said. "Northwestern is coming to Bloomington, that's our main focus right now. We have to get the job done."
Gaziano has recorded 5½ sacks this season and 26½ in his career, pulling within 1½ of Casey Dailey's school record. And Gaziano knows exactly where he stands.
"I've been motivated to reach that record," he said. "It's something special for me to make a lasting impression on the program, to have the career sack record."
The Hoosiers just completed their first perfect October since 1993.
And the offense has been a big part of it. Not only have the Hoosiers scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games, they lead the Big Ten in passing yards (312.8), sacks allowed (1.38) and completions (212). They're second in the league in total yards (450.5) and completion percentage (69.7). They're third in TD passes and fourth in third-down conversion percentage (47.7).
That could be a tall order for Northwestern, which has no takeaways in its last three games.
"It's not magical," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We work our butt off on it every day. Every single day. Usually when it rains it pours a little bit there. We're in the Sahara Desert right now. It would be nice to get some rain."
The first November night game at Memorial Stadium will be preceded by the unveiling of a statue to honor the late George Taliaferro, who led the Hoosiers to their only undefeated Big Ten championship in 1945 and was a three-time All-American, who led Indiana in rushing in 1945 and 1948 as well as passing in 1948 and punting in 1945. In 1949, he became the first black player selected by the NFL when the Chicago Bears took him in the 13th round. Taliaferro was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and died Oct. 8, 2018.
"Obviously, he was one of the key individuals that helped us be where we are today," Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "So to get a chance to have a statue for him, that's pretty cool. That's neat."