EVANSTON, Ill. – Kevin Wilson sees the silver lining. Indiana's football coach has to. He was hired to overcome a century of bad football and it starts with attitude.
So even in the frustration of Saturday's 44-29 Big Ten opening defeat at Northwestern, he saw promise.
“I really like our team,” he said. “They believe in you. They look you in the eye. We didn't play well, but we kept coming. We had a chance. As bad as it was, we had a lot of fight and resolve. These kids believe in what we're doing.”
Wilson stood in the visitors press area of Ryan Field and managed a smile. A Cream 'n Crimson history of losing couldn't be ignored. Neither could two straight defeats that dropped IU to 2-2. The defense has given up 85 points in those two losses.
“We have a little history of things not going well,” Wilson said. “We're changing that. If we keep them on track, things will start going well.
“We don't like the result. We've got a couple big battles in the Big Ten coming. It's fun.
“Northwestern is doing things we want to build to do. It's what their kids are about. That's what's winning here. A lot of things they do we're trying to implement.”
One thing that has to change is bad defense.
Northwestern (5-0) set a school record with 704 total yards. It had 36 first downs. Quarterback/receiver Kain Colter totaled 294 yards. He rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns, threw for two yards and caught nine passes for 131 yards.
"Kain is unbelievable," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He is the most dynamic young man in the conference."
Tailback Mark Venric rushed for139 yards and a touchdown. Mike Trumphy added 87 yards. Trevor Siemian, the other part of the quarterback rotation, was 22-for-32 for 308 yards.
“They have a couple of good players over there,” Wilson said. “They worked us.”
IU did some work of its own after a scoreless first half. It erupted for 29 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half to nearly overcome a 27-0 deficit.
Indiana starting quarterback Cam Coffman completed 13 of 23 passes for 109 yards and an interception. Nate Sudfeld was 9-for-16 for 157 yards and a touchdown.
As far as which quarterback will start next week, Wilson said, “There should be competition all the time. I think they're both starters. I don't believe in pulling a guy. If we need a shot in the arm .. we just needed a change-up. I didn't think Cam was horrible. It wasn't working in the first half. Maybe it was the play calling. Maybe Nate got lucky and the guys made good catches or the defense had some busted coverages.
“There won't be a (quarterback) controversy. They're both adequate. They'll both play. I like both of them. We don't change dramatically what we're doing. For next week we'll see if they're both getting better. Both have a chance to be really good.”
Tailback Stephen Houston had 91 rushing yards. Ten players caught passes.
In the end, it wasn't enough.
“We weren't playing Hoosier ball out there,” Houston said about the first half. “Then we stopped panicking and let the game come to us.”
Added Sudfeld: “We've got a lot of resiliency. The defense made some big plays in the second half. It was evident our receivers were running hard. We never felt like it was over.”
The Hoosiers' rally didn't please Fitzgerald.
"We've got to get our defensive guys some rest," he said. "We have some holes in the dam. We allowed too much water to sift through. Give credit to Indiana. They blocked us; they ran through us; and they ran around us on our kickoff team. We have to fix that starting right now."
IU, which is already without starting quarterback Tre Roberson due to a bad knee, briefly lost Hughes to a knee injury in the second quarter. He returned and finished with five catches for110 yards and a 35-yard touchdown catch.
IU blew an early scoring opportunity set up by cornerback Greg Heban's interception. Hughes made a great catch to get the ball to the Northwestern 11-yard line. The Hoosiers bogged down, then missed a 20-yard field.
The Wildcats responded with a six-play, 80-yard TD drive, all on the ground. Colter ran it in from the 8-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
Jeff Budzien's 44-yard field goal gave Northwestern a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Wildcats added Colter's 8-yard TD run and Budzien's 34-yard field goal to make it 20-0 at halftime.
The Hoosiers had just 145 total yards and five first downs in the first half.
Colter opened the second half with a 15-yard touchdown run for a 27-0 lead.
IU got back in the game with a pair of touchdowns on Houston's 20-yard run and Hughes' 35-yard catch from Sudfeld. The second TD came after defensive end John Laihinen stripped tailback Venric Mark of the ball and defensive tackle Larry Black recovered.
Tevin Coleman had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. D'Angelo Roberts' 2-yard touchdown run and Hughes' 2-point conversion run made it 37-29 with 14 minutes left in the game
But Northwestern clinched it with Colter's 22-yard TD run with 5:07 left.
"When you give up 700 yards, pushing 400 rushing, it's not too good," Wilson said.