By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON -- Fall break is officially over for Indiana football.
Last week, the Hoosiers rested players who were nicked up, let younger players take a few more snaps in practice and tried to get away from football for a few days.
Now, Indiana will play 10 straight games to close out the season, including the first big challenge of the season Saturday against Ball State.
"You learn more and more each week and that's why having a bye the third week is a little tough," coach Bill Lynch said Monday. "You probably want to keep going, but you make these plans six months in advance so you're ready for it."
Most teams prefer taking their bye week later in the season, when more serious injuries can heal properly, or just before a big game so they have two weeks to prepare.
As it turns out, the schedule may work out for Indiana (2-0).
Indiana is trying to reach bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1990 and 1991, and a victory over Ball State (3-0) would help give them a good jump toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility.
And having an extra week to prepare for a team that received one vote in this week's Top 25, has a projected NFL draft pick in quarterback Nate Davis and has oodles of talent certainly can't hurt.
"You get a little bit of a head start on your next opponent and I think sometimes there's a fine line about when you start putting in a game plan," Lynch said. "The advantage of having an early bye week is that you can still work good-on-good because guys aren't hurt as much."
Indiana spent much of its free time re-emphasizing the need for a more consistent ground game and a stronger run defense -- two factors that could play a significant role Saturday night.
Some might not see those as great necessities since the Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in both rushing offense and rushing defense.
But Lynch took time last week to look beyond the numbers.
While the Hoosiers are rushing for 275.5 yards per game, more than half of their 551 yards have come on four long touchdown runs. Kellen Lewis accounted for 137 yards on two TD runs in the season-opener, and Marcus Thigpen had scoring runs of 67 and 31 yards against Murray State.
Of course, Lynch has no problem with big plays.
The concern is this: On the other 90 carries this season, Indiana is averaging 3.5 yards, a number Lynch knows has to improve heading into the Big Ten season.
"We've still got to continually work at it to run the ball," he said. "We've got some big numbers but we've got big numbers because we've gotten some big hits. I think it's still coming, and we worked on that last week."
The run defense has played well, too, allowing just 45.5 yards per game.
But those numbers come against two teams -- Western Kentucky and Murray State -- that were overmatched and wound up throwing the ball more after falling behind early.
That's not likely to be the case against Ball State.
"This team can score in a hurry, and they can score from anywhere on the field," Lynch said.
The bye also gave Indiana a chance to get healthy.
Several offensive linemen, including incumbent starters Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, and wide receiver Andrew Means (dislocated finger) sat out most of last week. All are likely to play Saturday.
Safety Austin Thomas, however, may not. The junior hurt his lower leg in practice last week, and if he can't play against Ball State, the Hoosiers may go to Jerimy Finch, the transfer from Florida, who got another week to acclimate himself to Indiana's system.
"He and Joe Kleinsmith are ready to go," Lynch said. "Jerimy is that much further along now because of the bye, and we also have Brandon Mosley, who is a senior."
Whatever Lynch decides to do, the bye week has helped.
Even if it didn't come at the most opportune moment.
"It's good to be getting ready for a game again," he said. "The off week was good. We got some guys healed up, we got some young guys some work and we're anxious to go out and practice for what is a really good Ball State team."