THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — The Hoosiers aren't complaining about college football's quirky schedule this season. They used a second bye week to their advantage, and the timing couldn't have been better.
After losing two straight games, the Hoosiers (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) are counting on extra preparation time to start a season-ending surge that will allow them to grab a rare bowl bid and avoid the kind of finish they had last season.
"It was a good open week," coach Kevin Wilson said. "We had a lot of things I thought we needed to work on. We had a chance to look at getting some guys well and bringing some of our young players along. Five-game stretch, three at home, you want to have some energy."
In 2012, Indiana had just one bye week in mid-September. The Hoosiers lost the final three games after a 4-5 start put them in position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. Defensive lineman Bobby Richardson believes an additional week off in late October will help the team avoid another fade.
"It gave us a chance to get our legs back, get our arms back," Richardson said. "Rest up. That was a week we weren't as physical. We were getting more focused and watching film to prepare."
The defense focused on stopping the run, a major issue so far as the Hoosiers have allowed a league-worst 221 yards rushing a game. Running backs Jeremy Langford of Michigan State and Fitzgerald Toussaint of Michigan enjoyed career days against the Hoosiers, and the schedule presents more challenges.
The Hoosiers open a two-game home stand Saturday against Minnesota, a team that averages nearly 5 yards per carry, and then face Illinois. Indiana follows that up by traveling to No. 22 Wisconsin and its dynamic duo of Melvin Gordon and James White. Then the Hoosiers visit No. 4 Ohio State and attempt to slow down Carlos Hyde.
"We have to be physical," defensive lineman John Laihinen said. "That's what we can bring to the table. We have to pop them in the mouth, shock them a little bit. How close we really are is what bothers me the most. We have to make those tackles and get off those blocks two seconds quicker."
Tailbacks aren't the only problem, however. In a 63-47 loss on Oct. 19, the Hoosiers struggled to tackle Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon or quarterback Devin Gardner, who constantly faked out defenders and spun away from would-be sacks. Gallon posted a Big Ten-record 369 yards receiving and Gardner rushed for 81 yards and three touchdowns.
The breakaways by Gallon and Gardner continued a troublesome trend for Indiana. The Hoosiers have allowed 18 plays of 20 yards or greater over their last three games. When defenders have been in position to make a play, they frequently have missed the tackle.
"On those big plays, a lot were missed tackles," Richardson said. "We've got to wrap up. If one guy messes up, you don't know where your teammates are, and he's gone."
Defensive coordinator Doug Mallory spent the bye week going over all this. After the Wolverines broke nine plays of at least 20 yards - two of which gained 70 - Mallory said there is no excuse for Indiana's recurring breakdowns.
"We had nine plays that totaled over 300 yards," Mallory said. "That's the No. 1 sign you're getting your butt kicked. At times on some of the passes we got hit on double moves or weren't able to get enough pressure on the quarterback. One time it was a busted coverage."
Mallory emphasized that Indiana's defense must be fixed and added, "That starts with me."
The first test comes against Minnesota (6-2, 2-2), which rushed for 271 yards last week in a 34-23 win over Nebraska.
"Nebraska's defense didn't have that energy or swagger," Richardson said. "It was like they didn't know each other. They weren't communicating."
Indiana has lost four of its last six against the Golden Gophers and is 25-37-3 in the series. The Hoosiers are hosting Minnesota for the 10th time as a part of their homecoming festivities. They are 7-2 in those games, which Richardson believes spark the team because of the atmosphere.
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