Indiana dons pads aiming for more focus, physicality during the week #iufb

They went with full pads for two practices last week, serving not so much as punishment, but as a reminder.

While a tenuous quarterback situation has come to define Kevin Wilson’s fourth season in Bloomington, the IU coach felt that the uncertainty under center had enveloped too much of his team’s focus since losing Nate Sudfeld at the midway mark of the schedule.

And he wanted to remind them that they can’t overlook the physicality and the focus required to compete each week in the Big Ten.

“I think we got so consumed with fixing quarterback and what the quarterback can do, we got away from the team playing hard and the team playing well for the quarterback,” Wilson said. “Getting stops, playing well in the offensive line, running the ball more consistently, staying on schedule, et cetera.

“It was not by any means a negative mindset except just getting back to me where I felt we had kind of evolved.”

Those who spoke at Indiana’s weekly football availability Monday seemed to agree that the more physical approach to practice last week was a key factor in the Hoosiers’ best defensive performance of the season. Going with full pads is something the team plans to continue over the final three weeks of the season, including this week as IU prepares for its first-ever meeting with Rutgers on Saturday.

Wilson stressed that he was not trying to punish players after a loss at Michigan the previous weekend, but added that when Indiana has been successful this year and in the past, it came as a product of complete preparation.

After spending the last month working through a quarterback carousel, Wilson wanted his team to focus more on what still lies in front of it, rather than on what it has lost.

“The practices don’t change, but maybe the points of emphasis (do),” Wilson said. “I just felt we started emphasizing fixing problems instead of maintaining the culture that we thought we needed to win.”

It’s a balancing act for IU coaches, who must consider the wear and tear of a team in November — especially among freshmen —and juggle it with the need to translate practice effort to game days and vice versa.

Defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said that he heard players talking after the game about how they saw the returns from a hard practice week translate to Saturday afternoon, and added that one of the primary focuses of last week’s padded practices fell on recreating physicality and pace of play.

“For our guys, whether its the youth level or whether its the new defense, we have to be able to practice and simulate as much as possible for what they’re going to see on Saturday,” Knorr said. “We can’t do that without having physical practices. While you’d like to maybe take a little off, we find the best success rate when we actually simulate as much game as possible and still try to maintain the balance of keeping them fresh.”

The Hoosiers made it out of the Penn State game without any major injuries, but backup quarterback Nate Boudreau’s status remains uncertain after suffering a shoulder injury at Michigan. That means freshman Danny Cameron will move forward as the backup and freshman safety Zeke Walker will continue to work with the quarterbacks during the week.

Walker, who played quarterback in high school, has been practicing at the position since the bye week. He dressed and took pregame snaps before the Penn State game, but will only see the field in an emergency situation. Otherwise, he’ll redshirt.

Senior receiver Nick Stoner is expected to be ready for Rutgers after missing last week and part of the Michigan game with a strained hamstring.

“He looked very good (Sunday) night, so I would expect him to be back in the mix,” Wilson said. “He got run up on a punt play at Michigan and didn’t finish the Michigan game. So he’s a little gimpy. I think he’ll be back, and from there I think we’re pretty good.”

Indiana recognized four players with weekly defensive honors, including safety Mark Murphy, bandit Zack Shaw, linebacker Greg Gooch and cornerback Tim Bennett. Tackle Ralston Evans earned offensive honors, while Bobby Richardson received the special team award for blocking a field goal in the first half of Saturday’s game.