BLOOMINGTON -- Tailback Tevin Coleman won the football position battle, but not the war. Maybe he will, but it's too early to say. That's how it is in Indiana's compete-or-somebody-else-takes-over approach.
Non-stop competition is a way of Cream 'n Crimson life these days, whether it's the never-ending three-way quarterback scenario or every other position.
As IU (1-0) braces for tonight's game with Navy (0-0), Coleman understands this. It's a what-have-you-done-lately approach designed to make the Hoosiers Big Ten factors for years to come.
Coleman beat out veteran Stephen Houston for the starting job for Indiana State, had the most yards (169) by an Indiana running back in 17 years (Alex Smith had 174 against Toledo in 1996), is set to start against Navy, and got zero guarantees for the rest of the season.
Keep bringing it on, he says.
“It helped a lot. In camp, when (Houston) made a big play, that motivated me to make a big play. It kept the competition level high. I wanted to compete with Steve. He's a great player.”
The 6-foot, 230-pound Houston is a bigger, more powerful, more experienced runner than the 6-1, 205-pound Coleman. Houston, a fifth-year senior, rushed for 749 yards and 12 touchdowns two years ago, 802 yards and eight touchdowns last year. His career per-carry average is 5.0 yards. He's also caught 54 passes for 545 yards and four TDs as a Hoosier.
It wasn't enough, although coach Kevin Wilson says it was more about what Coleman did since the spring than what Houston didn't.
“Tevin might have been a hair better, but it's just a hair,” Wilson says. “Tevin has been a little more hungry, played a little harder, but Stephen has done well. It's not a slight to Stephen at all.”
Coleman's versatility -- he's big and strong enough to get the tough inside yards, fast enough to break big runs. He had a 58-yard run against Indiana State.
“I can run people over. I can juke people. It depends on how they're set up. If I can put a move on them, I will. If not, I'll try to run through them.”
After the Indiana State game, Wilson jokingly bad-mouthed the play caller for holding Coleman to just 14 carries (Coleman averaged 12.1 yards a carry).
For the record, Wilson calls the plays along with offensive coordinator Seth Littrell.
“I caught that,” Coleman says with a smile. “I mean, he probably should have. He's the play caller. I can't control that.”
Coleman has the talent to handle a heavier load. In high school in Illinois he was a running back-cornerback-returner standout. He twice finished second in the long jump, and fourth in the 100 meters.
Last year as a freshman Coleman ranked third in the Big Ten in kickoff returns (23.6-yard average), including a 96-yard touchdown. He rushed for 225 yards as Houston's backup.
He out-matched Indiana State. Navy will be a truer test.
“I expect a lot more carries (against Navy),” Coleman says. “They have a good defense, but the way their defense is, we can run a lot of things on them.”
Wilson said this week IU wants to play several running backs. Houston had just nine yards in eight carries against Indiana State. Anthony Davis had 65 yards in 10 carries. Andrew Wilson added 45 yards in seven carries. In all the Hoosiers rushed for 313 yards.
“We did a lot of things well, like hitting the holes with velocity, getting the right reads, breaking arm tackles,” Coleman says. “Things like that. We still have to work on reading. We weren't 100 percent. Run reads and running physically, running hard.”
Wilson says a better running game starts with the offensive line.
“They were OK the last game. They need to keep coming along.”
Navy is a triple option team known for its diverse rushing attack, although sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds is a gifted enough passer for the Midshipmen to have added more of a passing package. However, Reynolds has been hindered by an unspecified injury this week. If he can't play, or is limited, backup John Hendrick will take over.
“Navy is a tremendous, solid winning team, and for us to win,” Wilson says, “we'll need to show that we're a complete, good team because our defense is not going to shut them down, and our offense is not going to outscore them.
“We have the advantage of playing a game. We also have the advantage of playing a game and not showing everything we want to do. Everybody always has a couple cards up their sleeve, and this week it'll be a challenge to see defensively what we can do because this is a heck of a challenge for us.”