BLOOMINGTON – So where does Indiana football go from here?
Anywhere it wants.
We saw a glimpse of the future in the victory over Bowling Green. Not in the performance as much as the perspective. Coach Kevin Wilson has tried to change the mindset of what has been a perennial Big Ten doormat by pushing belief, work, passion and fun.
Don't confuse that with being a finished product. The Hoosiers (2-1) are far from that. If you've followed IU football over the years, you know it never works for long. But that's the attitude Wilson is trying to break. Amid the gloom and doom of the Navy defeat, he set his Hoosiers straight.
“We talked about it won't always be perfect. Play as hard as we can and have some fun. Quit worrying about the result. Don't worry about scoring touchdowns. Don't worry about the season. Don't worry about being a bowl team. Worry about today and this week. Quit being so selfish and worrying about the big picture.”
Bowling Green was not Alabama, but neither was it Indiana State. The Falcons were solid on offense and defense, and had played impressively enough to earn top-25 votes, although not enough to make a poll.
IU dominated them, and if not for a few first-quarter mishaps (getting stuffed from inside the Bowling Green 2-yard line, a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown) it might have won 56-3.
By now you expect the offense to score big. With Nate Sudfeld at quarterback, the spread attack rates as the Big Ten's best. Not only can the Hoosiers hurt you with the pass (Sudfeld leads the Big Ten with 10 touchdown throws), but now the running game is clicking.
Tailback Stephen Houston broke out of his two-game funk to rush for 155 yards on just 13 carries. That included a 60-yard run that he said afterward would have been a touchdown if he hadn't gotten winded. Figure he'll rectify that because the guy has been a touchdown machine at IU with 20 in his first two years.
Tevin Coleman, the guy who beat out Houston for the starting tailback job, continues to impress. His 129 rushing yards included a 43-yard burst.
The defense, so bad against Navy, was rock solid against a good Bowling Green offense averaging 37.5 points. A big credit goes to sophomore defensive tackle Nick Mangieri, who had four tackles, a sack and an interception.
Defensive tackles don't get many interceptions, especially one of the diving
variety. The 6-5, 262-pound Mangieri showed good hustle and athleticism to get his.
“He played hard,” Wilson says. “I thought he would be pretty good as a freshman. He didn't play poorly, but he's more mature and confident now.”
That's true of a lot of Hoosiers these days, and while a lot of that comes from improved talent, don't underestimate the importance of perspective.
“We just talked about having fun and play hard,” Wilson says. “No matter what happens, have fun. Is it going to be perfect? No. We'll chase perfection. We're never going to get there. We're going to fight it, scratch it, claw it. We'll keep fighting.”
On Saturday the fight turns to Missouri, a 2-0 SEC team with a big upside. The Tigers beat up Murray State and Toledo, and have the stats to prove it. They average 48.0 points (two fewer than IU) and give up 18.1. They run for 265 yards, pass for 274. They have four running backs who have rushed for at least 112 yards. Quarterback James Franklin completes 66.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns against one interception.
Missouri is in its second SEC season and seems better equipped to handle it. They're coming off a bye, so have had an extra week to prepare for Indiana.
That's beyond Hoosier control. They can control their approach, effort and determination. Do that, Wilson says, and the rest will work out.
“Don't worry about who's starting or who's getting the ball. Play hard and have fun. Love each other as a family. Care about each other. These games are priceless.”
“You've proven you can play 60 minutes. Let's put it all together and see what happens.”
So where does IU go from here?
Like we said, anywhere it wants.