CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For Indiana and Illinois, Big Ten wins are hard to come by.
The Hoosiers have lost their last 11, chalking up their last conference victory in a game against Purdue almost two years ago in the 2010 season finale. Illinois has lost nine straight since beating the Hoosiers last fall.
One of the two, will end their skid on Saturday in Champaign and Indiana might have the edge.
Illinois (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten) has been crushed in losing its last four games by an average score of 41-11. The Hoosiers (2-5, 0-3) are losing, too, five in a row since beating Massachusetts in early September. But they've lost the last three by an average of less than three points a game. And the competition — Ohio State, Michigan State and Navy — hasn't been shabby.
The big difference between the two teams over their losing streaks is that Indiana is putting up points, 35 a game.
And they're doing it, Illinois linebacker Ashante Williams said, by moving fast, maybe faster than any team the Illini have seen this season. And that's saying something since Illinois has lost to Arizona State and Louisiana Tech, teams known for their quick-snap, no-huddle attacks.
"They line up so fast that other teams aren't set and they're hiking the ball," Williams said. "A lot of times on film you see a lot of the teams trying to shift guys standing up, running back to positions, walking back to positions, and that's how they get a lot of big plays."
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said he has seen his team make progress, from being several big plays short of a win to maybe one over the past few weeks.
Part of the problem, he said, is many players are desperately hoping someone on the field will make that one big play rather than each concentrating on their assignment and that task alone. To make their point, coaches this week showed the team film from the Navy game, with the score tied at 30 and the Midshipmen trying the extra point that would decide the game.
"We actually showed them the effort, and then we actually stopped the tape and there were eight guys looking to see if (the kicker) made it instead of fighting to make the blocks," Wilson said.
Even in that loss, though, Indiana picked up 417 yards, using that fast-paced offense to run 78 plays. All three touchdowns were on the ground but sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman passed for 244 yards and scattered the ball around. Six Hoosiers caught at least two balls each, and receivers Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes both had seven.
"You've seen that offense progress," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said, admiring the way Indiana has been able to score points against good defenses like Michigan State and the Buckeyes. "They are definitely getting better as the year progresses."
To get ready, Illinois has run practice at a brutally fast pace.
"Yesterday was our first time actually simulating that pace, and it was like real hard for the scout team guys to get adjusted to it, as well as the defensive guys," Williams said. "It's such a blur and so fast."
Coffman and backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld both said they expect to see Illinois blitz a lot, and the Illini will have one of their best pass rushers — linebacker Jonathan Brown — back to near full health, according to Beckman. Brown has played with ankle problems for weeks.
Last weekend's bye also has Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully healthy for the first time since the beginning of the season. The quarterback has struggled with first an ankle injury and then a concussion.
Beckman acknowledged that Illinois' Big Ten losing streak weighs on some of his players.
"I think there's been huge effect on them," he said. "You've got to continue to strive to beat it."
But Indiana's conference drought is a full season longer, and running back Stephen Houston — who wasn't even enrolled the last time the Hoosiers won in the Big Ten — is ready to put it behind him.
"It's just that one play whether it's on offense, defense or special teams. It comes down to one play," he said, echoing Wilson. "That's what we emphasize on."
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