If you’ve been doubting Kevin Wilson as IU’s football coach for future seasons, this should give you a small bit of comfort: The Hoosiers showed up on Saturday, and, for the first time in a number of weeks, they improved. They lost 34-20 to Ohio State, but they improved.
In the most difficult environment they’ll play in all season, they looked as calm as they ever have. Against a rapidly improving team fresh from a win against almighty Wisconsin, the Hoosiers put together their most complete performance of the year.
And at a point in the season when everybody assumed this team had packed it in, the Hoosiers finally played like they had nothing to lose. They had a chance to beat one of the elite college football programs in the fourth quarter, which is impressive, even in a down year for the Buckeyes.
Maybe Wilson will be OK here, after all.
“Everybody was saying that The Ohio State was just supposed to run away with us,” sophomore running back Stephen Houston said. “We had nothing to lose. We have everything to gain. We just grinded.”
It seemed like the large number of guys leaving the program, capped by senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher’s dismissal last week, was a negative sign for Wilson and IU.
But it appears Wilson simply flushed out all the non-believers. Now he has a group of guys who are finally buying in.
“We’re working every day,” junior defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. said. “That’s one thing about our team: We’re going to work every day, no matter what our record. We have a great coach, and we’re behind him.”
Sophomore wide receiver Kofi Hughes looked like a completely different player against the Buckeyes. Watching him catch eight balls for 147 yards just makes you wonder what kind of player he can become if he keeps playing as hard as he has.
A few weeks ago, it looked like Hughes was headed in the opposite direction. He wasn’t producing on the field, he admitted to having poor practices and he answered questions as if he was angry with Wilson.
But something has finally clicked for Hughes. He has the potential to be a leader of this offense, and he’s starting to show it.
“The interception was my fault,” Hughes said of true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson’s late pick that effectively ended the game. “I ran the wrong route.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Chase Hoobler, who disappeared for a few weeks, was an animal off the edge. He seemed to be the only IU player who wasn’t juked by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller at some point in the game.
Roberson was impressive again. Jamonne Chester and Jay McCants had big third-down catches. Houston, Shane Wynn, Jeff Thomas ... the list goes on.
Wilson believes in the players who believe in him. As the weeks go on, both lists are getting longer.
“Our team doesn’t get respect,” Wilson said. “If we played up to our capability, we’d be toe to toe in the fourth quarter. That’s what I thought would happen. Watching tape, comparing the way they played and the way we played, if we played up to our capabilities, then we’d win.”
The team has looked dead for the last four weeks, especially on defense.
Even though they’re now 1-9 with two games to go, the Hoosiers are as alive as ever.
The players still make far too many egregious errors and give up too many big plays, but mistakes are going to happen when you’re playing as many young guys as Wilson is.
What those young guys are starting to see is that even though it’s late in the season, this is really just the beginning — the beginning of something that has a chance to work.
I’ll admit, I had my doubts. But after 10 weeks, the Wilson era is finally underway.