Composure seemed to be in short supply two weeks ago when Indiana made mistake after early mistake in Iowa City.
Now the spotlight turns to Bloomington and a second marquee matchup in three games when the No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats stroll into Memorial Stadium.
The noon Eastern game has all the hallmarks of the big stage — top-10 opponent, sold-out stadium, and a national television (ESPN) audience. For Indiana, that week one disaster at Iowa factors into the mix as well, as the Hoosiers need to prove it was an opening day aberration, and they belong in the national conversation.
So how is Tom Allen asking his players to shut out all that hype? He often says his players need to embrace the boredom of consistency with their practice habits. And Allen wants those habits to transfer to the field on Saturday afternoon.
“If you want to play your best in the biggest moments, you fall back to your habits,” Allen said on Thursday in his final public remarks before the game. “You fall back to the things you’ve trained yourself to do on a consistent basis, all the preparation, all the film study. It’s not some emotional high that you are going to get off of to win a game like that, because obviously when those critical moments occur, it’s usually later in the game, usually fatigue has set in, and usually you have to be able to rely totally upon the preparation that you’ve done to get into that moment.”
Just getting to critical late game moments would be a step in the right direction after IU fell behind 14-0 just a few minutes into the Iowa contest and never recovered. Assuming both Indiana and Cincinnati survive the early emotions, Allen said he expects his team will settle in and allow their instincts to take over.
“After the emotion all wears off and the rah rah wears off after the first few series or so, then it’s just rolling up your sleeves and playing football for 60 minutes or beyond whatever it takes to win,” he said.
While part of the mission will be to shut out the noise, Allen and his players are very appreciative of the atmosphere they know is awaiting them on Saturday.
“Very excited about the response from our fans, selling the stadium out is an awesome thing and I know that our players are excited about it too,” he said.
Indiana hopes it can produce a good result to keep the fans engaged and coming back. While the program routinely hosts big games against marquee opponents, a win on Saturday would be the Hoosiers’ first victory over a ranked foe in front of a home crowd since an Oct. 1, 2016 win over Michigan State.
DEVON MATTHEWS PROGRESSING
Indiana is continuing to monitor the health of starting strong safety Devon Matthews, who suffered an upper-body injury at Iowa and stayed behind in Iowa City for testing and evaluation. The senior from Florida has progressed nicely since a frightening moment on the field, and the possibility exists Matthews could play on Saturday against Cincinnati.
“Very promising with his rehab and development,” Allen said on Thursday. “Still don’t know for sure about Saturday. Very encouraged by the week he’s had.”
Matthews was not in uniform for the game against Idaho, but he was on the field walking around without limitation.
ALL EYES ON THE O-LINE
For the second straight week Indiana expects to have its starting five available on the offensive line. That group, tackles Caleb Jones and Luke Haggard, guards Matthew Bedford and Mike Katic and center Dylan Powell, had a choppy debut as a collective unit against Idaho, allowing two sacks in the first half before clearing the way for a 100-yard rushing day for running back Stephen Carr.
If there has been a weak link on the offense in both games, it has been up front. Allen expects more cohesion and a better performance on Saturday from the quintet.
“You see growth, for sure, and it needs to be reflected in our play on Saturday,” Allen said. “That’s what we expect. Every day they spend together, every meeting they have together, every practice rep, every drill they do, I believe there is a timing, communication and chemistry part of it. My expectation is that we play our best game up front on Saturday.”
CINCINNATI HAS “POWER FIVE PERSONNEL”
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell came up through the ranks as a defensive coach, and he has assembled one of the country’s best at stopping opposing offenses. Through two games the Bearcats are ranked No. 18 nationally, allowing just 260 yards of total offense.
Headlining the group are cornerback Ahmad Gardner and defensive end Myjai Sanders. Both players earned preseason All-American honors. Coby Bryant is a second talented cornerback who joined Gardner on the preseason Jim Thorpe award watch list.
“The defensive end (Sanders) is special,” Allen said. “They’ve got two corners and actually both of them I think are elite and very, very talented. … Impressive personnel. I know they are not in the Power Five currently, but they’ve got Power Five personnel. We feel like it is just playing a Big Ten football team.”
Allen used the word currently because Cincinnati has agreed to join the Big 12.
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