After Ohio State beating, Indiana regroups against No. 24 Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo was asked earlier this week what he wants his struggling team to accomplish in its final four regular-season games.
"There's a picture frame outside our team room reserved for the next bowl team at IU," DiNardo said.
"I want them to work on that. I want them to practice and play as if their practice and play will have an impact on when that picture frame will be filled."
With a 1-7 overall record and a 0-4 mark in the Big Ten, that frame is safe from everything but dust for now. But DiNardo is hoping for a strong finish, which could go a long way in gaining confidence for next season in the tough Big Ten conference.
The Hoosiers, who are coming off a rough loss to Ohio State, travel to face No. 24 Minnesota on Saturday.
"If they continue to work to fill that picture frame it will be a successful last third of the season," DiNardo said.
After the Golden Gophers (7-2, 3-2), the Hoosiers, who've lost 10 straight Big Ten games, have a very winnable game against Illinois before closing out the regular season against Penn State and Purdue.
But first, Indiana will face the Big Ten's top-scoring offense, rushing offense and pass-efficiency leader in Minnesota.
"Their offense is one of the best conceived attacks I've seen in a long time," DiNardo said.
While the Hoosiers look to gain steam for next season, the Gophers are trying to make their final push for a top-tier bowl game.
Minnesota, which will be playing its homecoming game, is currently in fifth place in the Big Ten, right behind two 3-1 teams: Purdue and Ohio State. The Gophers don't play either team this year.
The only way the Gophers can prove they're worthy of one of the conference's top four bowls is to win their final three games against Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Minnesota is motivated, and that's not too comforting to the Hoosiers.
"This is a really good Minnesota team," DiNardo said. "They got early momentum, and they're playing like it."
Gophers quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq leads the conference with a 178.4 pass efficiency rating, but the strength of Minnesota's offense remains its running game. Marion Barber III leads the conference in rushing, averaging 111.2 yards per game; Minnesota as a whole is averaging 280.2 in Big Ten games.
"We're running pretty darn good and I hope we can continue to do things this well," coach Glen Mason said.
But it starts up front, and Minnesota's offensive line is one of the best in the conference. DiNardo compared the Gophers' line to Ohio State's. Last week, the Buckeyes steamrolled the Hoosiers 35-6 behind Lydell Ross' career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns.
The embarrassing loss was Indiana's fifth straight.
On offense, Indiana had 131 yards -- its lowest total since October 2000 -- including 80 yards that came in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers ran for minus-12 yards.
And while Abdul-Khaliq is among the Big Ten's top quarterbacks, Indiana's Matt Lovecchio is still mired in a funk. His average of 142 yards passing ranks second-to-last in the conference; his five interceptions are tied for the most with Iowa's Nathan Chandler.
Mason said he's still wary of Lovecchio because his numbers are misleading.
"They've dropped a lot passes on him. But obviously he's a talent," Mason said.
Despite their fruitless struggles, DiNardo said he doesn't think his players have given up.
"I tell the kids all the time this is an extraordinary job and only extraordinary people can deal with this," he said. "If they don't have extraordinary feelings about this, they won't survive."
Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at)ap.org.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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