IU Coach Kevin Wilson’s main concern about the season opener against FIU lies with his own team.
During practices this fall, Wilson said the team has gone over each game situation as much as possible. Junior quarterback Richard Lagow has performed well in practice. The defense, under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen, has, as well.
But Wilson said he knows there will be some glitches. It’s the first game, and it’s against an experienced FIU squad. He wants to see how Lagow, the defense and the rest respond to adversity.
“When the bullets start flying, do you maintain the calm and confidence, make the adjustments you need?” Wilson said. “They’re going to be a really good football team, they got a lot of veterans, and can we walk that two-by-four trust board of ‘now the risks are greater, trust yourself, believe in yourself’.”
Wilson brought up the story of Stanford alumna and swimmer Maya DiRado, who won gold in Rio in the 200-meter backstroke. DiRado, who defeated Katinka Hosszu, the “iron lady,” of Hungary, had to convince herself she was capable of winning that race.
That’s the mindset the Hoosiers need.
“It’s one thing to have confidence,” Wilson said. “Our team (needs to) truly believe and start convincing ourselves, ‘Hey we’ve been playing some good football, we’re a good football team.’ I’m more concerned about that.”
Lagow won’t be forced to do too much against the Golden Panthers, as IU’s offense boasts experience and depth elsewhere.
Junior Devine Redding leads the running backs and should be able to lead the Hoosier ground game to a similar performance as that of last year when IU defeated FIU, 36-22. Behind former Hoosier Jordan Howard and current No. 1 back Redding, IU amassed 205 yards on the ground.
Senior Ricky Jones and junior Simmie Cobbs were two of now Washington Redskins quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s main targets against the Golden Panthers in 2015, and now with former FIU defensive back Richard Leonard in the NFL, IU could be poised for even better performances.
Still, the game will come down to how the defense performs against an FIU offense that returns many key players.
Junior quarterback Alex McGough is back after setting FIU single-season records in passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. McGough threw for 249 yards, three touchdowns and one interception against IU in Bloomington last year.
Receiver Thomas Owens represents a target in McGough’s arsenal who dominated the Hoosiers with two touchdowns and 166 yards on nine receptions.
One pick was the difference in the game though, as then-freshman defensive back Jameel Cook Jr. intercepted a McGough pass and ran 96 yards back for a touchdown, which stopped a drive that could have tied the game at 29.
Allen has drilled the importance of takeaways into his defense since he arrived at IU, and he wants his players to be on the ball all game long.
“They’ve got to make plays. I haven’t tackled anybody in 24 years, okay, not legally, anyways,” Allen said. “They’ve got to make those plays.”
IU’s secondary has more experience now than a year ago and should prove less porous and susceptible to big plays. The linebackers do, too. Juniors Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales, as well as senior T.J. Simmons, will aid a relatively inexperienced defensive line in putting a halt to FIU’s run game and rushing the quarterback.
The Hoosiers will be tasked with tackling familiar players in Miami, Florida, and Allen said he thinks they’re ready to finally tackle someone not wearing a Hoosier jersey.
Senior running back Clyde Newton, a former linebacker, is confident in IU’s chances, especially having played the Golden Panthers before.
“Playing them over the years, it’s kind of — their offense, I’ve watched it all the time and it doesn’t really change,” Newton said. “When I look at their defense it’s kind of like, I know that defense. So, it’s kind of like alright, they’re going to bring blitzes, they’re going to bring this and that. I know that already.”