CHICAGO — Kevin Wilson didn’t mince words when describing how the Indiana program felt about its status in the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers said they are encouraged by their position as a program, but they said they know there’s work to be done.
“We’ve been very competitive,” Wilson said, “A little bit inconsistent the last few years and let a few games slip away that we’ve been in, but we played some very good football and what I think is a tremendous brand in college football.”
The 2015 season ended in a bowl berth for the Hoosiers, but the disappointing overtime loss to Duke in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl was reminiscent of letdowns earlier that year.
A fourth quarter that saw the Hoosiers blow two fourth-quarter leads before losing to the Blue Devils was preceded by a blown fourth quarter lead against the Wolverines, a fourth-quarter collapse against the Spartans, a wasted 25-point second-half lead against the Scarlet Knights and a failed attempt to take the Buckeyes to overtime.
At the time, Rutgers was just the second disappointing finish of the year, but the lesson that game left with redshirt senior Dimitric Camiel still resonates as preseason practices approach.
“It just made us realize we’ve got to keep our cleats tied the whole time,” Camiel said. “You’ve got to stay focused on the game and stay sharp until it’s over.”
Redshirt junior Marcus Oliver, like Camiel, sees the defeat to the Scarlet Knights as a great teaching tool to show younger student-athletes to never think anything’s decided until the final whistle.
“You have to be ready to play every play,” Oliver said, “Not just at the beginning of the game, not just at the end of the game. Anybody can win in the league.”
Oliver will be a leader for a defensive side looking to reinvent itself under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. Though IU’s offense and special teams were not without fault in some of these defeats, it was the defense who consistently capitulated under the pressure of opposing offenses.
Dan Feeney went out of his way at an alumni event July 25 at Joe’s Bar in Chicago to recognize the change he’s seen in the mindset of the Hoosier defense under Allen.
“He’s different than the other coaches that have come here,” Feeney said. “I think he’s really changed the mindset of the defensive players, honestly. They’re excited to go out to practice, they’re excited to chase after the ball. They’re just excited to play ball, just like little kids running around.”
In other words, they’ve bought in.
Wilson points to a lack of belief during the 2015 season to explain why the Hoosiers lost close games during the campaign, and that for the team to move forward its belief needs to match its confidence. Feeney said he believes the defense is there. Oliver said he believes Feeney’s trust in the defense means both the offense and defense are ready to rely on each other.
IU doesn’t get much breathing room to figure it out before Big Ten play. This season marks the start of nine-game conference schedules in the Big Ten, and the non-conference opponents the Hoosiers do play are squads Wilson knows they can’t take lightly.
“Florida International last year, we have to we have a pick six in the last two minutes to secure that game in Florida International,” Wilson said. “That’s their opening game. Second game, play Ball State, and they beat us the last three times we played them, two times against the teams that I have coached. Our third non-conference game’s against Wake Forest who last through threw the last play in the end zone trying to tie it up.”