Wilson says Hoosiers one play away

Kevin Wilson’s biggest goal in practice these days is to try to keep the atmosphere positive, not ignoring the key mistakes that cost Indiana a chance at its third win on Saturday against Navy, but making sure his players keep in mind that they have made practice and that they’re close.

As he said on Saturday night after the game, he believes the program has made gains and that it is further along in large part because his team has bought into to his and his coaching staff’s plans.

He’s trying to make sure they don’t go back.

“We are in a position where in our time we went from significant number of plays needed to win games,” Wilson said. “Now it’s a play.”

“One play away,” was very much a theme and a talking point at Wilson’s press conference on Tuesday, which wasn’t all that surprising considering Saturday’s loss was the Hoosiers’ third straight defeat by four points or less.

“There’s a lot of plays that go into a game,” offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. “It’s not one play, but it is one play. We’re one play away from winning the football game. We’ve been one play away from winning a bunch of football games. We’ve gotta start figuring out a way to make that one play. That one play could be first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter.”

Said co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler: “We’re so close. We’ve gotta get over that hump and we’re going to. We’re going to get over that hump.”

Those words might be a little repugnant to Indiana fans simply because they’ve heard it before. Former IU coach Bill Lynch frequently lamented about how few plays the Hoosiers were from being a bowl team in 2009 when they finished 4-8. All offseason between that and the 2010 campaign, he talked about how eight plays could’ve changed the entire arc of the season.But of course, the Hoosiers never really got over the hump in 2011 either. They finished 5-7 again and Lynch was fired at the end of the season.

But of course, the coaches’ words are not inaccurate. If any of a number of plays — a Navy fumble the Hoosiers failed to pick up, the unnecessary roughness penalty against Antonio Marshall, the two miscommunications that led to a three-and-out on the next-to-last drive — went a different direction, the Hoosiers would be 3-4 instead of 2-5. And obviously, if not for Willie Snead’s late catch to set up a game-winning field goal for Ball State on Sept. 15, the Hoosiers would’ve won that game, too. The Michigan State and Ohio State losses don’t have as specific a play to target, but those games were decided by less than a score as well. so one play could’ve changed the dynamic there as well.

Wilson said the purpose of pointing all of that out is not to make excuses, but simply to tell his players that the losses shouldn’t cause them to abandon the plan that they’ve apparently bought into.

“Let’s keep believing what we’re doing works,” Wilson said. “Let’s keep doing it, let’s find a way to make it work. … You cannot hope. You cannot be frustrated. You cannot be negative. All you can do is keep working, stay positive, and let’s go get it done.”

Other notes from Tuesday’s press conference

— Wilson said linebackers Chase Hoobler (nerve issue) and Jacarri Alexander (stinger) have returned to practice this week, though Hoobler has done slightly more work. Still Hoobler also hasn’t played since Sept. 8 in the win over Massachusetts and doesn’t quite have his timing down yet, so Wilson said he expects David Cooper, Forisse Hardin and Griffen Dahlstrom to maintain the starting spots.

Wilson said he expected left guard Bernard Taylor to practice Wednesday with a cast on his wrist. He suffered an injury on it last week and had to have surgery, missing the Navy game. Collin Rahrig started in his place, and Wilson said the decision on who plays Saturday against Illinois will be based on Taylor’s pain tolerance.

— Though Illinois lugs in a 2-5 record to Saturday’s game, Wilson and coach Mike Ekeler both said the Fighting Illini have much more talent than their record indicates. Ekeler said the Illini offense is so multiple that it’s tough to tell what to prepare for.

“They’ve got an extremely athletic quarterback,” Ekeler said. “Really good running backs. Great receiving corps. Really good offensive line. And offensively, I don’t know exactly who they are. They do about everything under the sun. They’ve run so many different plays, you really don’t know what their identity is on offense. They’re good on a lot of different things. They’re very, very multiple.”

They have had turnover problems, Wilson said, but that also serves to mask how good the Illini defense is, especially the pass rush. Defensive end Michael Buchanon and Johnathon Brown were second team All-Big Ten picks last year.

— Ekeler was pretty much on fire from beginning to end. At the beginning, trying to put in perspective his team’s plight, he quoted Dumb and Dumber.

“I’m telling you, it’s like Dumb and Dumber,” Ekeler said. “‘One of these days we’re gonna catch a break. Two lucky guys are gonna be riding around with those girls for the next six months.’ ‘Let’s keep our eyes open.'”

And later, he discussed accidentally knocking over an official in Saturday’s game.

“That was an accident,” Ekeler said. “That, I thought I was getting flagged on. Flo (Hardin) made a great play. And it was right by our bench, and I’m going up and jumping on him. He moved out of the way and I hit the ref. I nailed him. I’m like ‘Uh.’ I thought he was goign to flag me and I’m like, ‘Hey, it was an accident, I’m so sorry.’ That wouldn’t have been good. That would’ve been hard to explain. I don’t know if Wilson would’ve been real understanding of that.”