CRAWFORD | Indiana, again facing tough breaks, resumes hunt for bowl
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — These aren’t the kinds of questions you want to focus on when you come to the conference media day. A season-ending injury. A player dismissed after a drug arrest.
But those were the issues on fifth-year Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson’s plate as he met with reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
The program announced Thursday that J-Shun Harris II, the Hoosiers’ top returning receiver with 18 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, will miss this season with a torn knee ligament.
That, coupled with the loss of their leading returning tackler, safety Antonio Allen, who was dismissed from the team in the offseason after being arrested on charges of dealing cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, sets the Hoosiers behind even before the pads go on.
Wilson also announced that junior college wide receiver Camion Patrick hasn’t yet been declared eligible to play.
But the coach wasn’t focusing on negatives. In fact, he preferred to look at how his players handled those two losses. The team learned that Harris would be out for the season earlier this summer, but held onto the information until Thursday.
“I’m proud of our football team keeping a family matter with an injury until today when we released it,” Wilson said. “It shows the strength of our men working as a group and keeping football business football business and growing the team. We’ve known for a long time J-Shun’s been out. We went through our summer work. Now, as coaches, we’re not a part of some of these 7-on-7s. But between Isaac James and Mike Majette and some of the young guys coming in between the guys we’ve got returning, whether it be Mitchell Paige or Ricky Jones or Damon Graham, we’ll be three, four deep there. But that’s a large loss.”
With Allen, Wilson said he thought it was important that coaches stay in contact with players to discuss what was going on with him, and with them.
“That was a very serious deal, and it’s still ongoing, immediate dismissal with Antonio,” Wilson said. “But we . . . have been very pleased with our group that we started immediately with our group to be a stronger, better team because we thought it was an isolated incident with one individual. . . . my immediate thing is when that event happened was to turn directly to our team, and we’ve had a very, very strong — we’ve moved forward very quickly and very strong, very positively from it. I’m very confident and very comfortable with our group right now. Got a lot of respect for those men.”
By now, Indiana has had far too much experience overcoming adversity. The Hoosiers were 3-2 when quarterback Nate Sudfeld went down with a season-ending shoulder injury last season. And that was that. They lost six straight.
After the season, they also lost leading rusher Tevin Coleman, who was an early entry into the NFL Draft after rushing for 2,036 yards.
The good news for Wilson is that Sudfeld is back healthy, and he has a solid replacement at running back with Jordan Howard, a junior who left UAB’s program when it disbanded after last season. Howard carried 1,587 yards in 2014, ranking seventh nationally with 132.3 yards per game and averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
“It is tough to replace Tevin Coleman. He’ll be a different back. But the consistency of last year’s running game when we didn’t have a passing attack the last six weeks and the year before when our offense was one of one or two best in the league, those running backs will have a very good offensive line,” Wilson said. “So I think Jordan and our running backs will do well because I think we have a chance to have a very, very good team up front.”
Wilson is due a couple of breaks going his way. The injury to Sudfeld derailed what could have been a bowl season last year. The Hoosiers will employ a 3-4 scheme on defense and hope to take a step forward this season. The offense, if they can find suitable replacements at wideout, should again be potent if they can keep Sudfeld healthy.
Wilson said he has worked to change the culture within IU football, but that at some point, people need to see changes on the field.
“I think our fans have been through it enough that we need to get some more Ws,” Wilson said. “. . . with the quarterback deal, they had a choice to give up. The team didn’t. It’s a deeper team. It’s a more exciting team. That’s led to our best recruiting. That’s led to an outstanding winter, spring, summer. Again, we’re cranked and we’re ready to get rolling. We’ll have some glitches. We’re not a perfect football team. But we’re kind of back to where we were, and we’re ready to roll this year.”
The Hoosiers open play at home against Southern Illinois at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5.
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