Indiana entered this season with its first preseason Top 25 ranking in decades and an experienced roster filled with talent, seemingly primed to continue its Big Ten ascent.
Then it all went wrong.
Injuries knocked out Indiana's top two quarterbacks, two running backs entered the transfer portal, their top linebacker was ejected for targeting in a pivotal game against Cincinnati and now the Hoosiers are still seeking their first conference win going into Saturday's game against Rutgers.
“We talked a lot (Sunday) about how we finish. That’s how you’re remembered as a group, and it’s going to be important for these guys," coach Tom Allen said. “Our whole objective is to help this team finish strong. The No. 1 goal is to beat Rutgers.”
At least that would help Indiana (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) salvage something out of this frustrating season.
Things haven't gone much better in the second season of Greg Schiano's second coaching stint at Rutgers. Since a promising 3-0 start, the Scarlet Knights have lost five of six and are just 1-5 in conference play. A week ago, they were blown out 52-3 by Wisconsin and they've been outscored 170-56 since the start of October.
An injury to quarterback Noah Vedral has created yet another wrinkle as Rutgers hits the road for the third time in four games.
“I think Noah is going to progress during the week. I think he’ll be available, I can’t tell you for sure," Schiano said. “We're kind of game-planning generically and then we’ll make some personnel decisions and then I think that play calls will get funneled to whoever we think will be the starter."
Allen said starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (throwing shoulder) and backup Jack Tuttle (foot) were expected to practice. Another complication is the uncertainty of running back Stephen Carr, who left last week's loss early with an injured ankle.
If all three are out, it's possible the Hoosiers could start true freshman Donoven McCulley at quarterback and running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter, who started his college career with the Hoosiers as a walk-on.
“We’ll obviously have to look at all those options that we have at (running back)," Allen said. “Michael and Jack have been involved, but they’re going to be more involved, and so that’s positive news for sure. Just trying to get those guys healthy, and we’ll see how this week progresses."
Rutgers and Indiana have met seven times as Big Ten foes. The Scarlet Knights won the first two, but the Hoosiers have won five straight. Rutgers is 5-3 in road games since last season. But the key will be turnovers. Rutgers is 4-0 when it has no giveaways, allowing fewer than 20 points in all four games.
NOT SO SWEET HOME
Saturday marks the first time Indiana has hosted a game against a team not ranked in the top 10 since Sept. 11 and just the second time this season. After winning their home opener against Idaho, the Hoosiers have lost to No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 5 Ohio State. They've also lost at No. 18 Iowa, No. 4 Penn State and No. 9 Michigan.
Running back Isaih Pacheco is one of 15 players in Rutgers history to top 2,000 yards rushing. He is ranked ninth all-time with 2,270 career yards and he needs 17 to supplant Bryant Mitchell for eighth. Next up would be Jacki Crooks, who has 2,434 yards from 1996-99.