BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This is heady stuff, this Big Ten title chase.
After a huge upset of Ohio State, surprising Minnesota is in a four-way tie for the conference lead. Now the Golden Gophers have to guard against a letdown against Indiana.
"We've been able to deal with adversity. Now can we deal with success?" said Minnesota coach Glen Mason, whose No. 22-ranked Gophers visit the struggling Hoosiers on Saturday (1 p.m. EST).
"It's so important in a program that we're trying to turn around, where you fight and fight for everything you get, you've got to be totally focused," Mason said. "Once you allow yourself the luxury of speculation (about a championship), then something bad happens."
Minnesota (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten), which beat Ohio State 29-17 for its first victory in Columbus since 1949, is tied atop the Big Ten with Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern. The Buckeyes are a half-game behind. Indiana (2-4, 1-2) is coming off a 58-0 rout by Michigan.
"We're staring right at a Minnesota team that's obviously coming off a great win, probably as well as any team I've seen in a while go into Columbus and play," Indiana coach Cam Cameron said. "They're playing well in all three phases. It will be a big challenge to our football team."
So far, the biggest challenge for Indiana has been protecting a lead.
Except for the Michigan fiasco, Indiana has generally started off well, scoring first in four of its first five games. The Hoosiers have outscored opponents 117-67 in the first half but have worn down in the second half, mainly because of a lack of depth on defense.
Indiana blew double-digit leads in two of its losses.
"You play defense as a unit," Cameron said. "Breakdowns on the front end, obviously, your running game (defense) is affected. Breakdowns on the back end, then you get hurt with the ball going over your head. We're just trying to get everybody try to understand do their job."
Indiana's defense is ranked 111th in the nation, 112th against the pass.
"We probably don't have the depth we'd like at linebacker," Cameron said. "In the secondary, depthwise we don't have a lot of options to make a lot of changes. Up front, we've rotated some guys through there and we'll continue to do that.
"When you don't have success on defense, guys start trying to do more than they're being asked to do. Then there's a gaping hole and somebody's running down the field, or somebody overcommits and then the ball goes over your head. So it's mental toughness, a discipline issue."
Indiana's offense is led by Antwaan Randle El, a flashy quarterback who last week became only the second player in major college history to pass for at least 5,000 yards and rush for 2,000. In two previous games against Minnesota -- one victory and one loss -- Randle El has rushed for 207 yards and passed for 200 yards.
This year, he is second in the Big Ten in total offense at 250.2 yards per game.
"Their 2-4 record is very misleading," Mason said of the Hoosiers. "Their game against Michigan is misleading. They have a good football team and a great football player in Randle El. I hear all the other comments from other coaches, and I don't know when there's been as much agreement on any subject as there is about Randle El. He's a great player."
Minnesota's offense is almost evenly split between the run and the pass, with Tellis Redmon the top rusher at 648 yards and five touchdowns and Ron Johnson the top receiver with 622 yards and seven TDs. Last week, sophomore kicker Dan Nystrom was named special teams co-player of the week by the Big Ten after three field goals and two extra points against Ohio State. He is working on a streak of 10 straight field goals, second only to his own school-record 14.
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