BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's Cam Coffman is the man until he isn't. There is no quarterback drama, although there is a backup plan.
In the aftermath of starter Tre Roberson's season-ending injury and Coffman's now-healed hip pointer, only a fool would go unprepared for injury at so vital a position, and IU coach Kevin Wilson is no fool.
So as the Hoosiers (2-1) brace for Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern (4-0), Coffman and backup Nate Sudfeld are positioned for impact.
“We need both of those guys on their 'A' games,” Wilson said. “Cam will go first unless there's some issue between now and walking out there Saturday. Nate will also be ready to roll.”
Coffman, a junior college transfer, has completed 40 of 57 passes (70.2 percent) for 410 yards and three touchdowns. When he missed the fourth quarter of the Ball State loss with a hip pointer, Sudfeld replaced him and went 13-for-20 for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and nearly led IU to a dramatic victory. That earned him Big Ten co-freshman of the week honors, but not a starting job.
Sudfeld did, however, get most of the practice work during last week's bye.
“It was good work for Nate and he needs a lot of work being a true freshman,” offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. “He's still growing. He's no different than Cam. They're both first-year players in the program. We need to get them as many reps as possible. Make sure we're doing things they're comfortable with and know.”
Sudfeld was originally set to be redshirted until Roberson's injury changed everything.
“Nate is a confident guy,” Littrell said. “Even when we recruited him he's always been that guy who was confident and sure of himself. That's what you're looking for in a quarterback. He has those attributes to be a great player, but he can't do everything. He's not trying to do too much. Just focus on your job.”
Coffman has returned to form after the injury, Wilson said
“He makes some good plays and some bad plays. Some plays I like. Some plays I don't like. He's getting better.
“Competition is a good thing. Every guy has to play his best. We won't win without good quarterback play.”
As for Roberson, he's out of his cast and walking without crutches. The fact he's doing that just two weeks after surgery reflects advances in modern medicine and rehabilitation, Wilson said.
“He says he's supposed to be jogging next week. That's kind of amazing.
“It's not only the medical procedures that are better, but the things we're doing now in the training room, with player welfare and player safety. What's happening to keep kids fresh with rest and nutrition. We're getting athletes back at a reasonably quick deal. We're trying to max a four- and five-year time frame.
“We get daily updates on kids, whether they're just under the weather or have a significant injury. If they're out we give them to the strength coaches so they can do what they can lifting. We find what limitations are there and we put them in a safe environment. We make sure we have a road map of continuing development, whether or not you're injured. We want to stay on track for your goals.”
Roberson is Exhibit A. Wilson said he saw the sophomore on Wednesday and asked him, “What tape are you watching? What video are you watching? You're still getting ready to play Northwestern. What are you doing to get better?”
During games Roberson has a press box role to provide input to Littrell as well as Coffman and Sudfeld.
“Tre gives you a view through the quarterbacks' eyes,” Littrell said. “He knows how Nate and Cam feel. He's comfortable with them. It allows him to give me a different perspective.”
That perspective is delivered when the Hoosiers don't have the ball.
“We don't speak much during a series,” Littrell said with a slight grin. “You're trying to find the best plays and run those.”
As for Northwestern, its patsy days are long since over. The Wildcats are a perennial bowl team, and are positioned for a return. They are unbeaten because of dominant line of scrimmage play.
Take the defense. It's held opponents to 73 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 11 in the country.
“We'll play a team that's stubborn and won't let you run,” Wilson said.
On offense, Northwestern has the Big Ten's third-best rushing attack with a 221.2 yard average. Only Nebraska (317.5 yards) and Ohio State (229.2) are better.
The offense has a pair of tough-minded running backs in Mark Venric and Mike Trumphy. Venric has rushed for 399 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Trumphy has 121 yards and a 4.3-yard-per-carry average.
Then there's dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter, who has rushed for 210 yards and thrown for 367 more. While he's not Northwestern's top throwing quarterback (Trevor Siemian is), he does complete 67.7 percent of his passes.
Siemian has thrown for 364 yards and a touchdown while completing 69.2 percent of his passes.
Also, Northwestern is one of just nine teams in the country to have not thrown an interception this season.
“With Northwestern, you got an athletic quarterback, you've got speed at the running back spot, you've got good speed on the perimeter, plus they have three of their five offensive linemen back,” defensive co-coordinator Doug Mallory said. “They offer a lot of difficulties. It will be a great challenge. We're working hard for it.”