It’s Purdue week, and Indiana coach Kevin Wilson realizes that at the end of a somewhat disappointing season, he and the program are fortunate such a thing exists.
Though the Hoosiers have officially been eliminated from bowl contention and go into the season finale knowing they will post a losing season for the sixth consecutive season, they still have something tangible to play for — that being possession of the Old Oaken Bucket and the addition of an I to the link on its chain — and a reason to go all out for one more week and one more game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“For us as a (team with several seniors) in Year 3 sitting here 4-7 and to some degree cosmetically disappointed with where we’re at, we got a chance to finish on a strong note against a strong opponent, a rival opponent,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. … for our seniors and for our fans, because I know it’s a big game for so many people in the state.”
But when it ends, regardless of who is holding the Bucket, the season will end for both, and that certainly wasn’t the way Indiana expected this season to go. In Wilson’s third year as head coach with significant amount of talent having returned on offense and eight home games on the schedule at Memorial Stadium this year, at least six wins and a bowl trip were considered a reasonably optimistic outcome. It didn’t happen, of course, and the best the Hoosiers can hope for is a one-game improvement from last year’s 4-8 mark.
Wilson still contends, however, that progress was made. Part of his justification for that was a schedule that was significantly more difficult than the Hoosiers originally expected.
Of the seven teams that the Hoosiers lost to, none has a record worse than 7-4 heading into the season’s final week. Ohio State (11-0), Missouri (10-1) and Michigan State (10-1) all have double-digit victories and Wisconsin (9-2) is close to that. All told, the record of those seven teams is 62-15.
Considering that, Wilson was proud that No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Missouri and No. 14 Wisconsin were the only teams that beat the Hoosiers by more than two touchdown and that the 51-3 Wisconsin loss was the only one in which the Hoosiers provided no resistance at all.
“Except for one game we competed,” Wilson said. “I thought last week we competed OK, came up short a little bit, but I didn’t like the Wisconsin fight in our team and the way we handled it. … On strength of schedule, we got the No. 2 schedule in the country right now. Our opponents since our open date have a record of 80-30. We’ve lost to 11-0, 10-1, 10-1, 9-2. We’re upset we didn’t beat an 8-3 team (Minnesota) and we’re upset we didn’t beat a 7-4 team (Michigan and Navy). We’re right there kind of playing winning football and on the short end of making a play, making a stop, doing a better job coaching, doing a better job playing to get a ‘W,’ to be sitting here with a chance to be a six-win team or be sitting on six.”
What that tells him, he said, is that if nothing else has changed in his three years have changed, the culture has.
“We gotta make strides on scoreboards, and we gotta make strides on ‘W’s,’” Wilson said. “But the best stride that we’ve made is that every day in our building is a positive day with our guys. There’s no negativity and there’s no complaining and there’s no finger-pointing. Our guys gives us a good go and our guys have bought in to our values and the way we want to live and the way we want to work.”
But the results have been much better on one side of the ball than the other. Though the offense is coming off a pair of performances that were shaky or worse against Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Hoosiers are still tied for second in the conference in scoring offense (36.8 points per game) and second in total offense (491.8 yards per game), ranking 23rd and 17th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in those categories. They lead the conference in passing offense (308.1 ypg) and rank 17th nationally in that category.
But, as has been well-documented, the Hoosiers haven’t fared so well on defense, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (39.1 ppg), total defense (529.0 ypg), rushing defense (256.5 ypg) and passing defense (272.5 ypg). Those numbers rank 115th, 120th, 121st and 112th respectively among the 123 teams in the FBS. This will likely be the third straight year that the Hoosiers finish at the bottom of the conference and in the nation’s bottom 20 in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense.
Wilson reiterated Monday that those failures fall on him, even though he is admittedly an offensive-oriented coach and spends far more time on that side of the ball.
“To me, when you go Year 3, you’re a part of the problem or you’re a part of the answer,” Wilson said. “I’ve always been trying to be more about what I could control than what I couldn’t. … I gotta look as an offensive coach that I’m doing things that give us a chance to create a stronger defensive culture. To me, everything starts with me.”
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t look to make a change on the defensive coaching staff, particularly with defensive coordinator and safeties coach Doug Mallory. Wilson has deflected questions about whether he would consider removing Mallory from his spot. Mallory was asked Monday if he’d had any conversations about his future with Wilson and if he expected to be retained.
“My focus right now is on Purdue,” Mallory said. “It comes down to one week. It’s Purdue. Whatever’s happened in the past has happened in the past. … The reality is a lot of things happened this season that we’re disappointed with. But our No. 1 goal and objective is beating Purdue.”
Coleman close to return
Wilson said he’s not sure whether or not sophomore tailback Tevin Coleman will return this week after spraining his ankle Nov. 9 in the Hoosiers win over Illinois. He said Coleman has made progress, but he obviously wasn’t ready for Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
“He’s really re-habbing at a high level,” Wilson said. “I know he wants to get back, but we’re not going to put him in a bad situation. We’ll just see how it goes. I know he’s worked at it hard. But he’s yet to, quote, truly practice. He plays a position with speed and cuts. It’s an ankle sprain. We’ll see how it goes.
Twenty-One Seniors to be honored
Indiana announced it will honor 21 seniors as part of Senior Day festivities on Saturday against Purdue. That includes the 11 players whose eligibility will expire and also 10 fourth-year juniors who will be graduating and have opted not to stay around for a fifth-year. Those are offensive linemen Pete Bachman, Cody Evers and Bill Ivan, defensive tackle Leneil Himes, linebackers Chase Hoobler and Jake Michalek, safeties Justin Nowak and Jake Zupancic, tight end Paul Phillips and Matt Zakrzewski.
Most of those players were seldom used. Hoobler is somewhat of a surprise because he made 12 starts combined in 2011 and 2012 and was expected to be a starter this year before a stress fracture in his foot ended his season. He also missed the last six games due to an ankle injury last season. Wilson said those were the reason he didn’t return.
“He came in, he was one of the first ones (to say he didn’t want to return) and he came in, it was almost like he was apologizing,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘hey now No, you’re not quitting. You’re body hasn’t held up.’ … It’s what he wanted. I didn’t disagree with it, and I wouldn’t have been mad at him if he wanted to come back.”
Unless they change their minds, the players who will return for fifth years are cornerback Brian Williams, wide receiver Isaiah Roundtree, defensive end Ryan Phillis, linebackers Steven Funderburk and David Cooper, safety Brandon Grubbe, center Collin Rahrig, defensive end John Lahinen and defensive tackle Jordan Heiderman.