Aside from Kellen Lewis’ choices off the field, the highly productive athlete was the catalyst, perhaps the only spark, to an offense that has produced mediocre numbers in recent seasons.
That 3-9 record? It would have been more like 1-11 last season if you subtracted Lewis from the equation.
His versatility heavily outweighed former IU quarterback Antwaan Randle El’s antics and, on most occasions, he was called upon to pick up his teammates’ slack.
He has led the team in rushing the last two out of three seasons, while still keeping his passing efficiency similar to the other gun-slingers in the Big Ten.
It even got to the point where having a star running back and receiving core weren’t necessary.
As proficient as Marcus Thigpen was, offensive coordinator Matt Canada would often call for QB sneaks, using the I-formation as a decoy.
And as proficient as slot receivers Andrew Means and Ray Fisher were, Lewis made opposing defenses spend double, sometimes triple, the time preparing for him than the old unit.
Lewis lifted the spirits of Hoosier nation, making a bunch of doubters believe games, not bars, were worth attending on Saturdays.
Austin Starr might have kicked IU to the Insight Bowl in 2007, but without No. 15, the Cream and Crimson would not have pictures to show off from Arizona.
However, hidden behind the glitz and glamour, Lewis’ leadership was always in question.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that when Lewis broke team rules, IU coach Bill Lynch dismissed him for good.
The IU Athletics Department had no choice.
Inundated with criticism that has stemmed from the Kelvin Sampson era, Fred Glass’ administration ultimately has to be up-front about everything from compliance with coaches to distasteful actions concerning players.
This case is a prime example of the zero-tolerance rule, and its use will indirectly cast the department in a positive light because they gave Lewis the boot regardless of how many butts he puts in Memorial Stadium’s stands.
No matter how eye-catching, jaw-dropping his gambits were on the field, Lewis was never a captain.
Nor did he act like one.
Of course, he was very cordial and actually quite fun to interview after practices and games.
But most players put on a mask when they talk to the media and, quite frankly, I believe Lewis was the ringleader.
I don’t see how he can back-stab his teammates, the coaching staff and the forefathers of the program again after missing all of spring practice last year due his first violation of team rules.
They all welcomed him back with open arms and, after talking to the quarterback-turned-wide receiver numerous times, he felt accepted, too.
Now, though, there is probably a “no vacancy” sign in the IU football program for Lewis.
This development puts enormous pressure not only on quarterback Ben Chappell and the rest of the Hoosiers, but on Lynch, the man who’s been the prime target for criticism after that shellacking from Purdue in November.
As his players go their own ways for the summer, it’s back to the drawing board for the IU coaching staff.
They’ll have to scratch formations, devise new schemes and, most importantly, find a tag-team partner for Chappell, now the full-time maestro of the offense.
So much for all that optimism during spring practice.
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