For the first time in his career – the first time in any of these Indiana football players’ careers – running back Stephen Houston gets a crack at an SEC team.
“I’ve been waiting on it, man,” Houston joked after a 169-yard rushing day Saturday in a 42-10 win against Bowling Green. “They’ve been taking too long. It’s like they’re scared or something.
“In all seriousness, this is a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity, and we’re going to seize the moment.”
The Hoosiers (2-1) have a chance to round out their nonconference slate with a marquee win against Missouri (2-0). While the Tigers aren’t an upper-tier SEC team, they are a part of the best conference in college football.
IU hasn’t faced an SEC team since Sept. 17, 2005, when the Hoosiers beat Kentucky 38-14 at Memorial Stadium. They’ll get another crack at one at 8 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network.
There was an excited vibe among the players Saturday after their convincing win against the Falcons. Regardless of what team it is, the SEC carries weight in college football.
A win would be validation.
“I’ve been here four years, and I’ve never played an SEC team,” senior wide receiver Kofi Hughes said. “I’ve only watched them after we play. It’s going to be a really big opportunity.”
This game is the gem of IU’s nonconference slate. That evidently isn’t lost on the players or third-year coach Kevin Wilson, whose squad went 5-19 in his first two seasons.
To make the jump from those numbers to a 3-1 nonconference record, with a win against a SEC team to boot, would be a spark for the program heading into a bye week and then the Big Ten slate.
The Tigers put together a 5-7 record in 2012, their first in the SEC. Those numbers are deceiving, Wilson said. Missouri had the No. 2 strength of schedule in college football according to NCAA rankings.
The Tigers had the toughest slate in the country according to the Sagarin and Massey indexes, as well as the Colley Matrix, which are all used in BCS ranking computations.
“They’re well coached, and they’ll be well coached and play well in all three phases,” Wilson said. “Their kicking is outstanding. They have good balance on O, good defense, solid football team. You’ve got to beat a team like that. They’re not going to lose the game. You have to play well to beat teams like this.”
The Tigers have a fifth-year senior at quarterback, James Franklin, who has thrown for 530 yards and four touchdown during two wins for Missouri. He’s also a dual-threat who has run for 60.5 yards per game and, along with a stable of Missouri running backs, has the Tigers at 265 rushing yards per contest.
With 539 yards of offense per game, Missouri outgained its opponents by nearly 200 yards through two weeks of play. Those foes, Murray State and Toledo, averaged 18.5 points to Missouri’s 48.
But the Hoosiers are better than those squads. The Tigers are also better overall than any nonconference opponent IU has faced.
This game will be a test for both teams, and perhaps a defining one. With SEC and Big Ten conference schedules ahead, a win Saturday would be invaluable for bowl hopes.
“In all phases, we’ve got to continue to improve this crowd,” Wilson said. “This will be a big week for us.”