Hoosiers hoping to change course on the road
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INDIANAPOLIS ó Indiana is taking a different tack through the rugged Big Ten.
Instead of getting detoured by perennial powerhouses, the Hoosiers are ready to take on those challenges. Instead of being distracted by outside expectations, they have focused on meeting their own goals. And before making a postseason bowl trip, the Hoosiers know they must start winning some games outside Indiana.
The long road back to contention begins Saturday at Michigan State.
"I actually like being on the road sometimes because there are less distractions," coach Kevin Wilson said Monday at his weekly news conference. "You've got to communicate better in the huddle and, fortunately, when you're on the road, there's not a lot of noise when they're on offense, so it's not as big a deal for our defense."
Wilson's preference hasn't been reflected in his record. Indiana is just 1-7 in league road games since Wilson arrived in 2011 with the only win coming last October at Illinois. That victory snapped an 18-game losing streak in Big Ten games played outside Indiana.
Hoosiers fans have grown accustomed to those sorts of numbers over the years.
Since 2000, Indiana is 7-45 in Big Ten road games, going 0-4 seven times and 1-3 five times. The only time Indiana won more than one conference road game during those 13 seasons was 2001 when the Hoosiers went 2-2. At Michigan State, the Hoosiers are an absurd 2-15 since 1970.
Indiana has a chance to change that perception if it can reclaim the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time since 2006 and celebrate with the trophy on its trip home for only the second time since 1987.
"I don't remember anything in the past about playing Michigan State," receiver Kofi Hughes said, acknowledging the Hoosiers aren't thinking about the past woes. "All I know is that we've got this opportunity and we're 0-0 against them this year and we want finish 1-0 against Michigan State."
It's a philosophy that worked well for Indiana last week.
After a 45-28 home loss to Missouri, the usually blunt Wilson spent the bye week treating his players like they had beaten the Tigers in hopes of giving them a confident boost. When players returned to practice last week, the mood was different.
Players glossed over questions about the 16-game losing streak to Penn State, reflecting Wilson's message that the 2013 Hoosiers had not contributed to that skid. On Saturday, the Hoosiers responded with an emphatic 44-24 victory.
But the real test begins this weekend.
The Hoosiers (3-2, 0-1) have played six straight games inside the state borders. Michigan State marks the first of back-to-back road trips to the state of Michigan ó the Hoosiers and Wolverines meet in Ann Arbor on Oct. 19.
And Indiana still has something to prove.
"We have to show we can do it again, against another great opponent, against a team that is close to being a Top 25 team," Wilson said.
It won't be easy.
Crowd noise can cause problems for an offense that typically plays at the line of scrimmage and moves on the fly.
But the bigger issue might be the classic clash between one of the league's top defenses and one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses. Indiana averages 44.4 points and has topped 40 in all three wins.
Last season, the Hoosiers were actually more proficient on the road, averaging 32.0 points outside of Bloomington and 29.5 at Memorial Stadium. The defense also allowed more points at home (37.3) than on the road (33.1), yet somehow Indiana managed to go 2-4 at home and on the road.
Why will this week be different?
The Hoosiers are embracing the challenge.
"I feel like once we get out there, it's us against them because it's a fun crowd when they're not on your side," receiver Cody Latimer said. "Playing at home is great, but being able to quiet that crowd is great, too."
Wilson wouldn't want it any other way, and neither would the players.
"Me, personally, I love it. I love going into other arenas in the Big Ten because the environment is so much more hostile," Hughes said. "We thrive off that, and I think that's something we love."
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