Kevin Wilson has said time and again that he doesn’t like to have his starting quarterback looking over his shoulder, and that he’d prefer to be able to pick one and settle. But now that the season-ending injury to Tre Roberson, the uneven play of Cameron Coffman and the promise of Nate Sudfeld have thrown the position into flux again, the second-year Indiana coach insists that the competition between Coffman and Sudfeld is good for both players.
“To me that should be at every position on our team,” Wilson said. “We talk about that with our guys quite a lot at every spot, every day, you need to bring it. If you’re supposed to be one of our better players, you better bring it harder than other guys. … I’m not trying to be a little league coach and make everybody happy and give everybody a trophy when the year’s over. We’re trying to get them better. We want both to be better. They’re both about the same. They both have things to work on. Ideally, the rub I got, they’re both kind of close enough that it’s not a competition. It’s just let’s see who plays well and communicates well and who gets us going.”
In the aftermath of Tre Roberson’s injury, Wilson had immediately planned to give the job to Coffman who had established himself as the backup, and let Sudfeld gain seasoning as Coffman’s backup. But Sudfeld entered the Hoosiers’ game against Ball State after Coffman suffered a hip pointer against Ball State and then led them to two touchdowns and the lead before they fell 41-39. Coffman struggled in the first half against Northwestern and was eventually pulled for Sudfeld, who led the Hoosiers to three touchdown drives to get within a possession of Northwestern before the Wildcats pulled ahead to win 44-29.
Wilson said Monday night and Tuesday that the Hoosiers will let practice play out to decide who starts. Though he isn’t thrilled about the idea of in-season competition at the quarterback spot, a position where stability is more important than other spots that are more effective with multi-player rotations, he said he believes Coffman and Sudfeld have the right mentalities for it.
“They’re both pretty good,” Wilson said. “They’ve got great families. Christian families. Unbelievable parents. They’re competitors, and trust me, neither one of them like not being the guy, because they want to be the guy. They just know how they’re supposed to answer questions when you ask them things. They want to be the guy. And they better be, because they’re the quarterback. And there ain’t no quarterback worth his salt that in his gut, don’t say, ‘I’m the guy, give me the ball.’ That’s why I like them too. They don’t say that, but I know that’s how they think. That’s how they all do. I think it’s a good deal. I think it’s a positive.”
Wilson said his lone concern was that during practice this week and until the dynamic changes, he’ll still have to split the reps 50-50 to get an equal look at both quarterbacks. He’d rather his starter get more than that.
“You don’t want to be so 50-50, because technically you want to get all those reps to almost 60-40, 65-35, two out of three, where the 1 gets a little more reps,” Wilson said. “When you’re at a pro practice, the 1 gets them all, the 2 gets a little bit. Sometimes there is a dimension where they’re so about the the same. One of the reasons they’re about the same is they’re both doing good, but neither one of them are doing good enough. That’s a product of being here for x practices as a freshman or having spring ball plus x practices. So we’re gonna keep them both plugging.”
— Wilson and his defensive assistants all stressed that they believe the defense is not as bad as the numbers suggest. They didn’t so much attempt to defend or explain the 704 yards of offense they allowed to Northwestern, but they were emphatic in their belief that there is a lot they can build on.
“I saw guys playing their freaking tails off,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler said. “Guys so damn close to making the play. Some things schematically we would’ve liked to have revisited with some runs. The issues we had were not getting off blocks. They kept running the same damn slow-developing reverse zone. A play like that, if you’re getting off blocks and snapping off blocks, it’s not going to (expletive) a drop. We gave up a ton of yards on that. That’s a frustrating thing. We’ve gotta continue to work on snapping off blocks and making better adjustments during the game like that. … They made some great plays and we had some guys right there.”
Ekeler and co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said there were schematic issues on occasion and that at times the Hoosiers were out of place when Northwestern was playing at fast tempos. They were generally pleased with the effort, but again, they said the biggest problem was an issue of getting off blocks.
“It’s a mindset,” Mallory said. “We work every single day. We go against our wide receivers. We go against our tight ends, we go against our running backs, We go against our offensive line. We do a one-on-one drill every single day. When we get done with our stretch, that’s the first thing we do.To me it’s a mindset. A lot of it’s technique, a lot of it’s heart. You’ve got to be able to get separation and be able to shed a block.”
The Hoosiers couldn’t do that much Saturday, but Ekeler said he still believes the Hoosiers aren’t that far off.
“The thing I like most about this team is we got unbelievable character,” Ekeler said. “I love going out to practice. I can’t say that a year ago. I love going out there. These guys love playing. They know they’re getting better. They know we’re getting it and we’re close. People can laugh and say whatever they want. ‘We’re close, yeah, you gave up 700 yards. That’s real close.’ Well, you know what? I’m telling you. We’re closer than people think.”
— Much praise has been heaped upon the Indiana wide receivers this week thanks to some acrobatic plays on jump balls by junior Kofi Hughes and sophomore Cody Latimer. Wilson said he was happy with the athleticism but still wants to see more physicality when it comes to downfield blocking.
“They made plays,” Wilson said. “I still don’t think we played well without the ball. Blocking wise, perimeter blocking. Physicality there. I do, because they believe in our quarterbacks, they think we can throw it, they think that guy’s gonna make a read and give it to me. I think they’re excited about playing. … That’s the hard thing about skill players. I do think our kids know they’re gonna get the ball so they’re more excited. The rub right now is teaching them, ‘Don’t pace yourself if you don’t think you’re getting the ball. Play as hard as you can play and as fast as you can play. That was my disappointment Saturday. I don’t think the offense played as hard and as fast as they should have. Play hard when you don’t have the ball, because the ball is going to come your way.”