BLOOMINGTON -- Of course it's week to week. It's the nature of Indiana football when your best quarterback is out for the season, backups run the show and the margin for error remains razor thin.
Still, inquiring minds want to know, with Tre Roberson and his broken leg healing off the field, will freshman Nate Sudfeld or sophomore Cam Coffman start in Saturday's showdown with Iowa?
“It's week to week,” offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. “Those guys are close. Through the weeks they're both neck and neck. Every week they both do a lot of good things. They both make mistakes. They both will grow and get better.”
Added quarterback coach Kevin Johns: “Each week we'll take it practice by practice. I don't mind the competition. I don't think the kids do, either. To us, it's not a big deal.”
Sudfeld has completed 41 of 65 passes (63.1 percent) for 541 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Coffman is 137-for-216 (63.4 percent) for 1,384 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
Sudfeld took over for Coffman late in the first quarter last Saturday at Illinois and led the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten win since the end of the 2010 season. Still, his 10-for-15, 107-yard, two touchdown performance left enough holes to solidify nothing but future opportunity.
“Last week Nate stepped in off the bench and had a solid game,” Littrell said, “but he made some mistakes.”
Or, as coach Kevin Wilson put it, “it was the worst performance we've had at quarterback.”
Wilson is not a sugar-coat coach. He pushes hard because he knows defenses certainly will, and no position demands near perfection as much as quarterback.
“We're gaining in some areas,” Wilson said, “but both have to keep pressing. They both are good competitors. They're both playing decently. They're two backups and they need to play better. That position sets the tone every week.”
IU beat Illinois in part because the Illini, more than any other Big Ten team with the possible exception of collapsing Purdue, beat themselves.
Iowa, as much as it has struggled in its 4-4 season, won't do that.
“We have to have a better offensive performance to win,” Littrell said. “Our defense was outstanding. That was the reason why we won. We took care of the ball, we made some drives when it counted, but those (defensive) guys made a bunch of plays for us.”
The Hoosiers (3-5 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten) need more of those plays given their unlikely postseason opportunity -- three more victories makes them bowl eligible, win their final four games and they clinch a Big Ten title game berth.
IU's high-speed attack is likely to punish an Iowa defense that got blitzed by Penn State (504 yards allowed) and Northwestern (433 yards) in two straight defeats.
“It won't be easy,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “It's another high-tempo group.”
Iowa's offense has struggled to score. Its 20.4-point scoring average ranks 10th in the conference. Still, defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said, “Iowa has one of the most physical offenses we'll face this year. They pride themselves on being a physical unit.”
It helps to have tailback Damon Bullock back from a concussion. He rushed for 107 yards last Saturday against Northwestern. He has 387 rushing yards in four games. Iowa's leading rusher is Mark Weisman (661 yards, eight touchdowns).
The Hawkeyes have played in 10 bowls under coach Kirk Ferentz, who is in his 14th season. He is 100-70 at Iowa, 112-91 overall. Wilson knows all about Ferentz's success and his emphasis on rugged defense, powerhouse running and mistake-free execution. In some ways, he said, it's a blueprint for what he wants to achieve at Indiana.
“It's a prideful team,” he said. “They're tough. They're physical. They've had some injuries, but they're a program that overcomes that.
“Philosophically, they're sound and structured. A lot of things they do we're trying to emulate. This is a winning program and we're trying to become that. I truly respect everything they do.”