Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has an improved defense but work to do with IU's passing attack.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) -- Three and out on Indiana's strange 28-10 season-opening victory against Indiana State at Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon (including a report card):
1. For three seasons Kevin Wilson has received a pass as the Indiana football coach. He took over a sagging program that has huffed and mostly puffed to one bowl appearance since 1993. This is a job that swallowed Lee Corso, Cam Cameron and others. Career killer? You could call it that.
Wilson needed time to recruit. He needed more time to build a defense. He needed more time to realign the schedule. He needed more time to (fill in the blank).
What time is it for Wilson in Year Four?
Time to win at least six games and proceed to a bowl game. The Hoosiers did not look Rose Bowl-bound (or even San Francisco Bowl-bound) against the lowly Sycamores, who are coached by former Louisville offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
Wilson coached a strange game. Indiana won the toss and deferred. Hmm. Wilson is usually Mr. Score First. Maybe he wanted to challenge his defense, the defense that allowed 528 yards per game last season. The coach called 12 consecutive running plays to open the game – and the Hoosiers scored the first touchdown.
On IU's second offensive series, IU scored in two plays, the second a 73-yard run by Tevin Coleman, a dynamic halfback.
The initial thought was that Wilson loves his offensive line and wanted to develop faith that the Hoosiers can move the ball between the tackles. Indiana certainly did. They ran for 455 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Coleman
was a beast, delivering a career-best 247 yards on 23 carries.
"We planned that all in camp that we were going to run the ball a lot," Coleman said. "This season we're going to run the ball a lot."
Maybe Wilson was trying to use a limited game plan, determined not to reveal much to IU's next two non-league opponents, games the Hoosiers need to split to position themselves for a bowl trip. Didn't see many crossing routes or deep balls. This was Indiana's B attack -- B as in bland.
Either way, it appeared that the rout was on. The Hoosiers led 14-3 after 12 minutes.
Not really. The teams played essentially evenly (at least on the scoreboard) over the final 48 minutes.
Or maybe there wasn't much to reveal – at least in the Indiana passing game.
Cam Coffman transferred to Wyoming after last season. Tre Roberson, a playmaker with his legs or arm, bolted for Indiana State in June. That left only junior Nate Sudfeld – and Sudfeld did not look like one of the best passers in the Big Ten.
The absence of receivers Cody Latimer (Denver Broncos), Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser was striking. Shane Wynn, the guy nominated as IU's next receiving star, caught two balls for eight yards.
Sudfeld completed one pass in the first half, but he only attempted four as the Hoosiers ran the ball 30 times for 224 yards. But in the third quarter Wilson looked for more balance – calling a dozen passes and 18 runs.
The Indiana passing game did not look like the Indiana passing game of 2013 or 2012. In the third quarter, Sudfeld completed 9 of 12 for 86 yards, but threw an interception that led to an Indiana State touchdown. Sudfeld finished 11 for 18 for 111 yards -- and no touchdowns against an FCS defense.
"It was a little frustrating," Sudfeld said. "You want to get the ball in the playmakers' hands.I was trying to take what they were giving me, which was the run half the time because those are run-pass options. I'd see it, hand it off and let the guys run. That worked pretty well.
"But we need to find a little more balance. I guess it was a little bit vanilla today. We were just doing what was working, which was the run game."
Blend in Wilson's decision to let freshman J-Shun Harris return a punt that he fumbled away in the first quarter, the coach's decision to walk away from a mid-range field goal in the third quarter and a missed 26-yard field goal in the final quarter. It's no surprise that the Hoosiers' coaching staff was still trying to put the game away midway through the fourth quarter, even though IU outgained the Sycamores by nearly 400 yards.
1A. Offensive report card: Running game -- A. The rushing yards total was a Memorial Stadium record by the home team; Passing game -- Inc. Sudfeld was far from sharp but the playbook was limited. Kicking game -- C, with the fumbled punt and missed field goal.
2. Here is the flip side: Improved Indiana defense. In Wilson's first 36 games as the Indiana football coach, the Hoosiers scored 20 or more points 30 times.
Despite their ability to score, Indiana lost 20 of those 30 games.
Indiana State scored 35 on IU last season. Not this time. Just one touchdown – and that was set up by Sudfeld's interception. The field goal came after the fumbled punt. The Sycamores had one drive -- their first -- longer than 28 yards.
"That's what a team is," said IU linebacker Flo Hardin, a product of Ballard High School. "When the offense puts us in a bad situation, we'll get them out of it. And vice versa."
The Sycamores labored to generate 170 yards of total offense. That was easily the fewest yards Indiana has allowed in a game during Wilson's 37-game career.
In fact, it was first time IU has allowed less than 200 yards and only the second time the Hoosiers have allowed less than 300 in a game during the Wilson Era. Hardin, a senior who made five tackles, said that one thing the Hoosiers did during the off-season was watch video of the defense that the Seattle Seahawks played during their push to winning the Super Bowl last season.
"We studied how they tackle, how their defense is so good in making open field tackles," Hardin said. "How they use their shoulder pads instead of their helmets and make all legal hits."
Was that Hardin's idea?
"I wish it was," Hardin said, with a laugh. "It was coach Wilson's actually."
"It means a lot because we're making a lot of strides. We've been working hard. It was time for us to carry it over to the games because we do it a lot in practice."
If Wilson does not fix the passing game, the defense will have to be faster, deeper, stronger, better.
2A. Defensive report card: Run defense -- A-minus. The Sycamores averaged only 1.3 yards per carry, but this was Indiana State, not Michigan State or Ohio State; Pass defense -- B-plus. ISU threw for 140 yards, but the Hoosiers had their hands on several passes without delivering any interceptions (or fumbles).
3. Next for Indiana?
Strange is the word of the day and that includes Indiana's schedule. The Hoosiers won't be home again until Sept. 27, a gap of four weeks, when they play their Big Ten opener against newcomer Maryland. After an off week, Indiana travels to Bowling Green Sept. 13 and then visit Missouri the following week. You saw what Western Kentucky did to the Falcons Friday night.
The Hilltoppers did it by passing the ball like crazy. Indiana did not look like a team that can pass the ball like crazy on Saturday.