BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana State is not, say, Ohio State. Indiana crushing the Sycamores guarantees nothing but a 1-0 start to the season.
And yet …
The Hoosiers gave substance to the preseason hype Thursday night -- most of the time. They roughed up a Football Championship Subdivision team the way they should -- most of the time. They did to the Sycamores what Wisconsin has done to them lately -- most of the time.
They dominated. They stuffed the run -- except for when Shakir Bell had the ball. They ran with aggression -- see Tevin Coleman. They hit big passes. They excelled on special teams -- except for when freshman Laray Smith botched a kickoff return.
They played decent defense.
Let's repeat that: They played decent defense.
“The defensive effort,” coach Kevin Wilson said, “was significantly better.”
Because nothing ever comes easily for IU football, there were the baffling glitches. Specifically, the three touchdowns in five plays Indiana State scored to end the first half and start the second. Oh, offensive lineman Jake Reed got ejected for throwing a punch.
Still, you set a school record for most points in the first half (45), score the second-most points in school history (only the 76-0 win over Franklin in 1901 beats it), life is good, and if there are plenty of coaching points to make in the next week, well, that's why Wilson and his staff make the big bucks.
Again, Indiana State doesn't come close to the caliber of opponents IU will face the rest of the way, but that misses the point. This is a Cream and Crimson team that is, at last, built in Wilson's let's-kick-tail image.
“We talked about would we play as hard as we can,” Wilson said. “Can we take the way we practice to the field? In a game, the stakes are higher. Do you have the courage walk the tight rope like my man at the Grand Canyon (Nik Wallenda)?
“You mess up in practice and nobody knows it. You mess up tonight and it will be on ESPN blunders for life. There's pressure. The kids know what's at stake. We worked hard and got after it. I told them, our job is to polish you. I shouldn't have to question how hard you played.”
For the record, Wilson won't. Not after this game.
“I thought the effort was outstanding.”
Still, even with 73 points that could have been 80 if Wilson hadn't elected to take a knee with the offense inside the Indiana State 10-yard line with two minutes left, he wanted more.
“The offense got a lot of things to build on. I wanted all they had.”
Memorial Stadium became a showcase for all sorts of Hoosier possibilities.
*Big-play specialist Shane Wynn returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown and caught two touchdown passes (43 and 3 yards). The last Hoosier to do that in the same game was Rob Turner against Missouri in 1990. Wynn might have had more if not for a vicious hit he received from Indiana State freshman Carlos Aviles while waiting to catch a punt. Aviles was ejected for targeting. Wynn was knocked out of the game.
*Tailback Coleman had runs of 34 and 58 yards, and finished with 169 yards on just 14 carries to show why he beat out Stephen Houston for the starting job.
Wilson looked at Coleman's 12.1-yard-per-carry average and jokingly criticized the play caller (offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, with a lot of input from Wilson) for not giving Coleman more touches.
*Quarterback Nate Sudfeld came off the bench to complete 12 of 17 passes for 219 yards and four touchdowns after replacing starter Tre Roberson.
*Tight end Ted Bolser caught a career-high-tying six passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
*Receiver Kofi Hughes, upset about the hit Wynn took, came up big with three catches for 69 yards, including a 27-yard TD catch.
*IU rushed for 313 yards and passed for 319 yards. That's the first time in school history it has gained 300-plus yards on the ground and through the air in the same game.
Now life gets tougher.
Navy will offer a far stiffer challenge Sept. 7, especially with its triple-option, clock-chewing rushing attack. So will Bowling Green, which stomped on Tulsa 34-7 Thursday night. You'd better believe Missouri will bring SEC muscle to Memorial Stadium, giving the Hoosiers the perfect chance to show they are Big Ten ready.
And, of course, we have the never-ending quarterback discussion. Roberson started without a guarantee he would keep the job. Sudfeld and Coffman remain in contention.
But that's for a later discussion.