Junior tailback Darius Willis will not be available for Saturday’s game against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said after practice on Wednesday.
Wilson said Willis, who has started the last two seasons, hasn’t had much action all preseason. He played in just four games last season before sitting out the rest of the season with several injuries, the critical one being a torn patella tendon in his knee that required surgery. Willis sat out all of spring practice, and has apparently had his action limited in August.
“He just hasn’t been practicing much,” Wilson said. “He’s just always been nicked and dinged, not able to go full go all the time. It’s kinda hard to go when you don’t practice.”
When asked for the nature of his injuries, Wilson said there were a number.
“Name it,” Wilson said. “It’s been hands, ankles, backs. He’s just been hurt. He got hurt in stretches, he got hurt in walkthroughs, he’s just hurt. … It’s nothing personal against Darius at all, he just has missed a boatload of work. Hadn’t had a lot of reps with the ball in his hands, so where is he. How fast is he? Is he up to speed? There’s not really not much to it other than that.”
Wilson initially suggested that missing this game would count as Willis’s one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. The suspension stemmed from an alleged domestic assault incident in December. Willis was not charged with a crime, but he was hit with a six-month protective order.
Wilson didn’t sound certain that he would stick to that.
“Because he hasn’t earned it, maybe he shouldn’t be,” Wilson said. “I guess I need to figure that one out, because I don’t know if he’d be playing anyway.”
Willis rushed for 278 yards and four touchdowns last season and 607 yards and six touchdowns in 2009 as a redshirt freshman.
Wilson said sophomore tailback Nick Turner has also missed significant time in recent weeks. He was the only scholarship tailback who was healthy throughout the spring.
“He got a little concussion,” Wilson said. “He’s been OK, but he’s kinda loose with the ball…. He missed a hand full of days.”
Willis and Turner have the most Indiana experience of anyone in the backfield, but Wilson said injury isn’t the only reason they’re not currently on the depth chart. The performance of redshirt freshman Matt Perez, junior college transfer Stephen Houston and true freshman D’Angelo Roberts has been just as big of a reason.
“The other guys kinda separated,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if anyone’s separated to be the one. Especially considering two of them haven’t been here very long and they’re still learning, they look as good or better than the other guys. You look at a guy that you wouldn’t think should do as well and he’s doing as well as a guy that’s been here, the thought process is ‘He’s got some upside,’ and you want to push that one a little bit.”
Wilson said he still hasn’t decided what quarterback will take the first snaps on Saturday.
“We’ll just kinda sit back and collectively look at it,” Wilson said. “Bottom line, just a guy we think starting out with is gonna play the smartest, play within himself, try to make sure we’re managing the team, putting the ball in our hands, not forcing the issue and all that. We’ll talk about it tonight and tomorrow and go from there.”