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October 14, 2011

Tom's take: Motivating Indiana

MADISON - Imagine if things were reversed for a second.

What if Indiana dropped 83 points on Wisconsin? What if the Badgers lost by 63 points in a game that got completely out of control in a blink of an eye?

What if it was Wisconsin getting ready to play Indiana as the recipient of one of the most lopsided losses in Big Ten history?

"That would motivate me more than anything," UW junior running back Montee Ball said. "Knowing what happened last season, that's why we keep the 1-0 mentality.

"Anything can happen."

Anything can happen, but simply put, it won't.

Indiana ranks at or near the bottom of the Big Ten standings in most major offensive and defensive categories. It's undergone a coaching change, it's returning players still haven't proven they're capable of pulling a major upset and most importantly…. it's Indiana.

While they're showing signs of life, they're just not that good.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has talked about the fact that IU head coach Kevin Wilson has plastered that final score throughout the Hoosier locker room as a motivational tactic.

That may or may not be true.

Bielema might be trying to flip what he perceives as the most obvious motivational tool for Indiana in his team's favor. But it doesn't matter.

Those 83 points from a season ago simply don't matter to UW.

"If anything it's going to make them play harder," UW offensive lineman Peter Konz said. "They'll want to redeem themselves and have a great game against us. It puts a target on our back.

"It doesn't do anything for us because last year is over."

Many chastised Bielema and his staff for 'running up the score' against a hapless and obviously overpowered Indiana squad a season ago. Jon Budmayr's bomb to Jared Abbrederis, two freshmen at the time, didn't sit well for many in the national media.

That leads to yet another angle Indiana could use as a motivational technique.

It could go something along the lines of this: 'Wisconsin didn't respect the game enough to play by the unwritten rules of sportsmanship. Let's take it to them.'

But to some, that's simply not the case. Wisconsin's young players, its reserves, didn't do anything any other young player on any other roster wouldn't have done.

Had the name on the jersey said Oregon, Oklahoma or any other traditionally high scoring, 'sexy' school, hardly anybody would have batted an eye. But because Wisconsin is widely known as a running, grind-it-out type of team it became a national story.

"People would have looked at it as that's what they do," UW senior safety Aaron Henry said in reference to some traditional high scoring offenses. "They'd think they're a fast-paced, high tempo offense and that's what they do.

"We were in a lose-lose situation."

But really, when you look at that game, it seems more and more like Indiana's players simply threw in the towel in favor of going through the motions.

Here's how bad it got.

When Beau Allen, a freshman at the time, received reps late in that game, he noticed some disconnect between a pair of Indiana offensive linemen.

"They had a lot of their three's in there," Allen said. "They were trying to make their offensive calls. The center was giving his calls and he kept yelling, 'City, city."

It didn't take long for the bickering to start.

"The offensive guard looks at him and yells, 'No, that's not right, that's not right,' Allen said. "The center just goes, '(Crap), I don't know."

Of course the ball was snapped as all this was going on.

"The guard was laughing and I was laughing," Allen said. "The dude didn't get out of his stance so I just walked into the backfield and almost got a tackle-for-loss. I'll never forget that as long as I live."

When a team is that disoriented, as Indiana was that Saturday, it's tough to blame a team for running up the score.

What else would you expect a bunch of young players to do?

Is it even worth trying to motivate a team when it was clearly evident they stopped playing as hard as they could?

But that's beside the point.

This Saturday is a new day. It's a new opportunity for both teams to get better and it serves as a chance for Indiana to exorcise some of the Camp Randall demons that have been lingering for the past 11 months.

Though Indiana will still lose, there's a chance they could make subtle improvements along the way that will help the program in the future.

That, more so than the 83-point debacle from a season ago or the false bravado that the Hoosiers could actually stun the college football world by beating Wisconsin, should be the main motivational tactic.

I just doubt that it will.


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