One of Indiana coach Kevin Wilson’s long-held criticisms of his team has been that it doesn’t deal with success well.
Even going back to his first season, when the Hoosiers finished 1-11 and didn’t have much success at all, Wilson saw his team struggle for consistency. Players that had one good day of practice felt good about themselves and then couldn’t reproduce it. If a player put together two or three decent performances, enough to catch the attention of the local media, That player would vanish the next time out. Collectively, if they so much as played a heavy favorite to a closer loss than what was expected, they couldn’t sustain that level of play the next week.
Last season, the Hoosiers posted back-to-back wins twice, but followed each of those with a painful loss. After defeating Massachusetts 45-6 at Foxborough Stadium, they returned to Bloomington and lost to Ball State for the second straight season. Later in the year when they posted back-to-back wins over Illinois and Iowa and had a chance to take control of the Big Ten Leaders Division in a game against Wisconsin — a story line that made the Hoosiers a national curiosity — they were pounded 62-14 by the Badgers at home and dropped the next two games to end the season.
The goal now, of course is to reverse that trend. Saturday’s 44-24 win over Penn State ranks as the biggest in Wilson’s tenure and one of the biggest in recent IU history. The Hoosiers goal is to build on it instead of fall back.
“It is good to have one game of success in the Big Ten,” Wilson said. “We haven’t shown we can back it up and do it again with another good week of preparation, the appropriate mindset that we need to then go out and execute again.”
Wilson said part of the problem is that when the Hoosiers win, especially when they win a big game, they get attention on campus they don’t usually get, and that causes them to suddenly believe they’re better than they are. Senior wide receiver Kofi Hughes agreed and expanded on that in detail.
“I think our team has had a little challenge with dealing with success in the past,” Hughes said. “Whether it was last year when we were kind of in a position where people are thinking, ‘Oh, the possibility of a Rose Bowl,’ and things like that. And you saw what happened with Wisconsin. We completely laid an egg. Then we beat Bowling Green and then everyone’s kind of giving us a pat on the back again. We didn’t play nearly the way we should have against Missouri. You see this going up and down kind of thing. We gotta know how to just completely forget about a win the way we forget about a loss. That’s something that I think our team has to mature and learn over time. … We’re a really young team still, and I think it’s hard to be on a campus where you’re not used to getting any attention at all. As soon as you get a win, you’ve got a lot of guys who do want to pat you on the back and say, ‘Hey, good job.’ You’ve got kids coming up to you on campus or professors saying, ‘hey, good job,’ who have never talked to you before. It’s kind of hard as a human not to pay attention to all of that. It’s a big distraction, but at the end of the day, a team that hasn’t won a lot in the past like we haven’t, it’s all a part of the process of becoming a (established) program, I think.”
Wilson said he saw a little evidence of that effect between the Indiana State win and the Navy game.
“I thought that first week at Navy, we got a little, laughing like it was easy,” Wilson said. “Towards the end of the week, just were in a good mood. You need to have some confidence and feel good, but I don’t know if you’re in a good mood when you’re getting ready to throw your body around and smash people a little bit. There’s a way a guy goes in the ring. He’s feeling good, but I don’t know if he’s a Chuckles the Clown kind of guy.”
Getting past that sort of thing, Hughes and Wilson said, comes down to maturity.
“You really just gotta tell yourself that we’ve only played, what, five games, and that we have such a long way to go,” Hughes said. “You really can’t harp on last week. We gotta take on each week as an equal challenge. Coach (Kevin) Johns does a good job of telling us receivers that, ‘hey,’ after every game on Sunday, he’ll say, ‘Good win,’ or ‘bad loss,’ whatever it is. But, ‘We’re back to 0-0. And every week we’re trying to go 1-0.’ … I think that this past weekend was a huge step for our team. It really proved to our guys that we are good. We know that we’ve put in the work and that we’ve put our team in position to have a chance at being a great team this year. But I think that this past weekend was the first physical sign that people could see, ‘Hey, we could really do something here.’ Hopefully that’s going to make everyone more hungry and not just excited that we beat Penn State. I think it’s more than that.”
— Wilson’s football expertise comes entirely from the offensive side of the ball, and even since he’s been a head coach, he’s never been afraid to admit that and he isn’t necessarily trying to alter that reality.
It’s his contention that every coach sees the game from the vantage point of one side of the ball or the other. It’s not that offensive coaches don’t understand defensive football at all or vice versa, but it’s extremely difficult to see the game from the other side’s point of view, especially for coaches who have spent decades as an assistant on one side of the ball before becoming a head coach.
“I’m not a defensive guy,” Wilson said. “(Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops) said all the time, ‘Eh, don’t listen to me, though.’ He’d be like, ‘Eh, I think this, but don’t listen to me.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, here’s what I think as an offensive guy.’ But I don’t have that view. When you’re looking at a picture, there’s different views people have. Randy Walker had an offensive view of running a program. Coach Stoops had a defensive view. I saw some of that, but I’m still an offensive person. I’m trying to be more of a head guy.”
Asked he could ever truly see the game from the defensive standpoint, he said he doubted it.
“I don’t know if you ever do,” Wilson said. “To me, you’re gonna see it the way you see it. Shoot, there’s a lot of times my eyes go in the box, because I was used to being a line coach. I coached quarterbacks, but I watch their feet. I didn’t watch them through. I don’t teach throwing, I teach their feet. There’s your read, and do you get your body aligned like a golfer. Because I don’t understand that. I can’t sit behind a quarterback and say, ‘You should throw it here,’ because when they start moving that way, I never saw that. I saw what guards and centers see. ‘Hey, here comes the blitz.’ I saw that. You have visions. You have things you see. To me, you got your view. My thing was, I don’t know if I’m ever going to see things, but there’s a presence I think our team needs to play with as a complete team.”
And up until Saturday’s win over Penn State, he didn’t see that kind of presence on the defensive side of the ball. So especially during the bye week, he made more of a point to spend time working with defensive coaches and defensive players to get the defense operating more towards his liking. In some cases, he offered general criticisms about effort and “presence,” and in others he pointed out vulnerabilities he saw as an offensive coach that he would attack.
“I was just trying to organize the practice where I had some time to get on their field with them,” Wilson said. “Sometimes I just go with the quarterbacks. Coach Johns has quarterbacks and receivers. Carter Whitson, the young (graduate assistant) does a great job as a receiver guy helping him. Sometimes I was just over with those guys. So we tried to work practice where, I’d kind of go over there because I’m a line guy. I kind of stood right where the umpire was, right between the linebackers and started yelling a little bit. ‘Let’s go, get the call, get lined up.’ I don’t have any defensive answers, but there’s an attitude and an effort I think we need to play with. It was bothering me, that I just didn’t see us playing as clean as we needed to be. The effort and that wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t what I thought we needed. I didn’t give them a bunch of answers. I did look and say, ‘Here’s what I think they’re doing.’ Here’s how he’s gonna attack you as an offensive coach, because I do study offenses. I’d sit there and watch Michigan State, ‘Ok, you’re going to get this or this.'”
Wilson said he thought the defensive staff met his demands. It certainly showed in the statistics. The Hoosiers were one of the 10 worst rush defenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision heading into Saturday’s game but held the Nittany Lions to just 70 yards on the ground.
“We talked last week about some more defensive confidence, being a little bit more vocal,” Wilson said. “being a little bit more simple so our kids weren’t thinking. That’s all I talked about with those guys. I tried to get into a couple of meetings and have an offensive view of what I think and what I wanted to see. Then I went over on the practice field a little bit just to have a little presence, but I didn’t give them any answers. I said, ‘Here’s what I think you need to do, now you figure out how to do it. Coach Mallory and his guys did that, not me.’
But, Mallory said, Wilson’s perspective helped.
“He’s involved in the offense, he’s involved in the defense, he’s involved in the special teams,” Mallory said. “He manages the team. He’s like a lot of the great head coaches I’ve been around. They know what’s going on in all three phases. I think it’s great from a defensive standpoint that you’ve got a guy like Coach Wilson who has a great offensive background and he always will give us insight on what the offense sees. To me, we learn a lot as a defensive staff because now we can see through their eyes through their vision, how they see our defense, how they’re gonna attack our defense. It’s great to see that perspective from coach. But no, he’s a head coach, he’s involved in all three phases, and that’s how a head coach should be.”
— This Saturday’s game at Michigan State marks the Hoosiers’ first road game of the season after going 3-2 in five home games. Hughes said, the Hoosiers are very much looking forward to it.
“Me personally and a lot of guys that I talk to, we love it,” Hughes said. “We love going to other arenas especially playing in Big Ten play, just because their environment is a lot more hostile and a lot more, there’s so much more energy than there is playing at Memorial Stadium. Which is obvious, no offense to our fans or anything like that. But you go to Michigan State or you go to the Horseshoe and you feel that. You feel it the whole game and we thrive off of that. I think I speak for our team that that’s not an intimidation factor, it’s something that we love and at the end of the day makes us play better.”
— Right guard David Kaminksi injured his knee in Saturday’s game, but IU coach Kevin Wilson said he’s not sure how bad it is yet.
“David got a knee injury,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if it’s a surgical knee and we’re waiting to get an MRI read. I didn’t hear this morning. He didn’t practice.”
Wilson said right tackle Peyton Eckert is still having the same problems with his injured back and therefore is out again this week. The redshirt is becoming more of a possibility.
“If he’s on the field for one play, it’s a year,” Wilson said. “He’s doing some very, very light stuff. He’s just got a sciatic nerve, L5 S1 deal. It just has not responded. We’ll see how that thing goes.”