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We all knew that Indiana wasn’t going to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.
So when the Hoosiers started putting together some touchdowns late in their 44-29 loss to turn a snoozer into a mildly interesting contest, we would have been forgiven for mowing the lawn, going to the park or switching over to the Ryder Cup.
That’s what Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is up against. A football culture that doesn’t really care.
OK, this isn’t about those 15,000 diehards who bleed the school colors and therefore were glued to the TV set every last play on Saturday, even after the Hoosiers were behind 20-0 at intermission.
It’s about all those people who would love to be involved, but need a reason.
Personally, from a sportswriter’s viewpoint, I would love to care about Indiana football. I love college football. I love game day and the fact that the fans truly care about a team, as opposed to those who treat NFL stadiums as stops on the tavern crawl.
Indiana is in our backyard. It’s our team.
Our team just happens to be Little Sisters of the Poor. You’ve heard of them?
Wilson has the ominous task of changing all that, and he is four games into the second season of business as usual. Last season was actually worse than the previous four, when Indiana was 1-7 in the Big Ten. Last year, the Hoosiers were blanked, a distinct possibility again this season.
That’s not to say there isn’t hope. So I will break away from all this doom and gloom for a moment.
Why? Because there is hope. No, really.
Wilson inserted 6-foot-5 true freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld on Saturday and the offense immediately had a different feel. Sure, he was tossing the ball right into the teeth of the defense at times, and he has little-to-no clue about reading all that underneath coverage, but if the fans are going to ride the caboose another year, why not put those hopes into a brand new basket?
The offense does have some playmakers. Running back Stephen Houston is a load when he is going north-south and not along the line of scrimmage. Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer are playmakers who can be spectacular at times. Tevin Coleman is a freshman speedster who only needs to find more ways to be involved in the offense. All those players return next season.
Often in a losing program, playmakers are few and far between. Wilson has some options. Perhaps more are on the way.
Another positive is Wilson’s background as an offensive line coach. You would think that given some playmakers, he would be able to build an offensive line to make everything fit together. It makes sense.
Getting there, though, is going to be painful. It might take some adjustments by Wilson, who had a steady stream of the nation’s most talented players at Oklahoma. It’s different here.
The play-calling on Saturday was perplexing. The Hoosiers kept trying those down-the-line, quick passes that resulted in pain for those who caught them. The most successful long plays were heave-ho passes thrown up for grabs that Hughes and Latimer would go up and get. There didn’t seem to be much of a plan.
Hopefully, the Hoosiers can develop a sharp, short passing game that can substitute for a running game that will be nonexistent against the Big Ten powerhouses. The only reason the Hoosiers had success running against Northwestern in the second half was because they were way behind. They aren’t going to have success in the first quarter, so don’t try. Develop a short passing game that can substitute for the run. If you get the hogs up front in the future, then change the plan. I sure don’t see it in the present.
Finally, please help your defense out by slowing down your offense. There’s no problem with the no huddle, but get set and then get everyone under control. Indiana seemed to be giving itself more problems rushing to the line than Northwestern’s defense.
Eat up more of the clock and perhaps those days of allowing 704 yards of total offense will go away.
The Big Ten is currently negotiating a down cycle. It’s the perfect time for a changing of the guard.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Indiana was involved?
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.
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