BLOOMINGTON -- How do you react when adversity hits, when a starting position becomes a reserve role, when postseason hopes are crushed once again and all that's left is an Oaken Bucket battle against your biggest rival?
If you're Indiana's Kenny Mullen, you don't sweat the stuff you can't control.
And then you make the most of what you can control.
So here is Mullen, a sophomore cornerback listed as the backup to Antonio Marshall for the seventh straight week. The five straight starts to open the season are a fading memory.
No matter. For the former Bishop Luers standout, it's all about Saturday's Bucket game at Purdue.
“This is a big rivalry game,” he says. “We're playing for a trophy, so we're definitely motivated for that. We have to have our best week of practice, prepare, watch film and come out ready to play.”
Mullen remains ready despite diminished playing time. He is second on the team with four pass breakups, and eighth with 33 tackles. He's played in 10 games.
“You've got to stay motivated, keep motivating your teammates, helping those guys out as much as possible,” he says. “Be on alert whenever you're needed. That's what I'm doing now -- being positive and helping my teammates.”
The Hoosiers are 4-7, which is three more victories than last year. Purdue is 5-6 and needs a victory to become bowl eligible for the second straight season.
Ending the Boilers' bowl hopes, Mullen says, is not part of the motivation.
“We're not focusing on their postseason success, whatever that might be,” he says. “We are focused on winning and bringing the Bucket back to Indiana.”
The teams have split the last two meetings. The Hoosiers won in 2010 at Ross-Ade Stadium, lost last year at Memorial Stadium.
Rivalry runs deep. This is the 88th meeting for the Bucket, the 115th meeting overall. Purdue leads in the Bucket series (57-27-3) and the overall series (71-37-6). IU is 21-37-5 at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“It's definitely an emotional game,” Mullen says. “We're both playing for something far bigger than just this game. We're playing for our schools. We're a state school and we want to bring the Bucket back.”
IU faces a Purdue team that has won two straight after opening Big Ten play with five straight losses.
“We have to stop the run,” Mullen says. “We have to play the pass well. They have pretty good receivers, pretty good quarterbacks, accurate quarterbacks. We have to stop that passing attack, stop the run and get the ball back to our offense.”
As a former Bishop Luers Knight, Mullen is well aware Luers is gunning for its fourth straight state title. The Knights (10-4) play Indianapolis Ritter (14-0) Friday night at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. He will be with the Hoosiers and won't be able to make the game, but he will be following it given his younger brother, Kendrick, is a Luers standout.
“It's definitely a happy feeling for me coming from that program,” he says. “It's a good program. They do the right things. I wish those guys luck and hope they bring home the four-peat.”