Indiana is opening the gates of Memorial Stadium half an hour earlier than usual Saturday.
The Hoosiers expect a capacity crowd for one of the bigger Indiana home games in recent memory, a clash with No. 8 Cincinnati for which tickets were sold out more than two weeks in advance, and the university is trying to avoid big bottlenecks at entrances to the stadium parking lots.
The preparations for a big crowd are notable in and of themselves for a program that long played home games with large swathes of empty seats. Indiana football is different today and fans have noticed – a packed student section greeted the Hoosiers in their home opener against Idaho last week.
“That means a lot,” IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said of the raucous crowd the Vandals faced. “Just shows the support that we have, people believing in us. I remember when we first went out there, we came back into the locker room and we were pumped. We said, 'Man, the student section is packed today.' We're glad that we could play well with all the fans in the stadium, and we just can't wait to this Saturday, as well.”
Indiana fans are acting like the Hoosiers are different than the program that went 4-8 in 2014, the year this matchup against the Bearcats was scheduled, but IU has to prove it on the field, too. The Hoosiers flopped in their first big test of the season, falling 34-6 in the opener at No. 18 Iowa.
The meeting with Cincinnati, which aspires to be the first team outside of the Power Five conferences to reach the College Football Playoff, is a second chance for Indiana to grab a marquee victory – or at least avoid a blowout on a big stage.
“The good news is that we have played in a lot of big games here at Indiana,” coach Tom Allen said. “We play a really difficult schedule (every year). I do feel that to have the opportunity to play a team like (Cincinnati) at home is special and those are opportunities that don't come along every single week.”
The Bearcats are 2-0 after easy wins over Miami (Ohio) and Murray State. Coach Luke Fickell's team returns much of the group that went 9-1 in 2020, losing only to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, 24-21.
IU defensive coordinator Charlton Warren was the defensive backs coach for the Bulldogs then. He called Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder “one of the best in the country.”
“You've got to respect what they do schematically, how hard and well they're coached,” Warren said. “(Ridder) can execute under pressure, under zone, he just sees it a lot. So, you're dealing with a very capable group. They're a group that's very mature, they all came back, they're on a mission and they've had a lot of success.”
Allen echoed his assistant's comments on Ridder, who had nearly 2,300 passing yards and 600 rushing yards last season, calling him “definitely a future NFL guy.” The Hoosiers will also have to deal with running back Jerome Ford, an Alabama transfer who is picking up 7.8 yards per carry, as well as preseason All-American defenders Ahmad Gardner at cornerback and Myjai Sanders at defensive end.
“I know they are not in the Power Five currently, but they've got Power Five personnel,” the fifth-year IU coach said. “We feel like it's just playing a Big Ten football team.”
Indiana vs. Cincinnati
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (1-1), No. 8 Cincinnati (2-0)
Radio: 92.3 FM