For Hoosiers, this week's focus is clear: 'Rutgers, that's it'
Indiana coach Tom Allen understands the temptation to peek at the big picture. He also recognizes the pitfalls it can cause.
Allen's message this week, as the Hoosiers return following their first bye week, is simple: Keep the focus on Rutgers.
"We all see the schedule. Everybody can look at it," Allen said. "We've just got to keep getting better every time we take the field and every time we strap it up on Saturdays."
It's hard to ignore what's at stake this weekend.
Indiana (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) has lost four straight conference games, needs three more wins to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016 and still must face the likes of No. 10 Penn State, No. 16 Michigan and Nebraska. A victory over reeling Rutgers is essential.
The Scarlet Knights (1-4, 0-3) have lost 15 consecutive conference games since beating Maryland in November 2017 as well as 18 of their last 20 overall. And over the last two weeks things have only gotten worse.
They have coped with a coaching change, dealt with a request from their top running back to sit out the rest of the season so he can redshirt and now apparently have lost the top two quarterbacks for the rest of the season. Graduate transfer McLane Carter has a concussion and his replacement, Art Sitkowski, also hopes to redshirt. Interim coach Nunzio Campanile said Monday that Sitkowski would be his emergency quarterback.
The turmoil took its toll on the field, too, where Rutgers was outscored 100-7 by Michigan and Maryland.
And Campanile knows he needs everyone to get in sync before the Scarlet Knights can turn things around.
"We left a lot of plays out there just because, you know, we probably aren't really ready to execute all the things at the level you would hope," he said after watching last week's tape. "We're just going to create some consistency."
Allen realizes how the matchup looks on paper. But his bigger concern is making sure the Hoosiers avoid counting down the wins to a bowl bid.
"This is the beauty of being able to sit down with your guys and have some mature guys who understand the big picture," Allen said. "But it is solely focused on getting them some blinders — Rutgers, that's it."
Rutgers has lost 10 straight true road games, spanning more than 700 days since a win at Illinois on Oct. 14, 2017. This season has been equally unkind with two losses by the combined score of 82-0. The good news: It's the first time this season Rutgers hasn't faced a ranked foe on the road. Michigan and Iowa were both No. 20 when they hosted the Scarlet Knights.
Allen talked about making adjustments on offense and defense during the first of Indiana's two bye weeks. One thing the Hoosiers hope won't change is the chemistry between quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and receiver Whop Philyor.
Two weeks ago at Michigan State, Philyor caught 14 passes for 142 yards and a career-high two touchdowns. Penix was 33 of 42 for 286 yards and three TDs while running for another score. Philyor's 14 receptions are tied for the highest single-game total in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, while Penix earned his second Big Ten freshman of the week award this year.
Blackshear's decision leaves the Scarlet Knights without their top playmaker. He led the team with 29 receptions for 310 yards and two TDs and had 88 yards rushing. Last season, he led in both categories. Sophomore Isaiah Pacheco has been the featured runner with 340 yards. Freshman Aaron Young now is getting more carries. Bo Melton is the top receiver with 15 catches.
Carter sustained a concussion in the second game and announced this week his college career is over. Johnny Logan, a transfer from Boston College, made his first start last week and ran for a touchdown in the loss to Maryland. Freshman Cole Snyder is his backup.
Indiana will wear special uniforms Saturday to celebrate the bicentennial of the university's founding. The most noticeable difference — the school name will appear rounded over the numbers with the same typography used during the Hoosiers' 1968 Rose Bowl season. The jersey also will have a commemorative football-shaped patch celebrating the 150th season of college football.