Published January 13, 2015
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is becoming a regular fix-it man.
He dissects problems, finds solutions and works relentlessly to clean things up. So, of course, that's how Wilson spent a weekend away from football — working on the defense.
"A lot of it is that you're supposed to put your eyes where you're supposed to go," Wilson said, noting some defensive players were taking extra peeks around the field. "That's what we tried to do this week, just emphasize playing your gap, playing structurally sound and keeping your eyes where they're supposed to be."
At Indiana (2-2), stopping opponents has been a continual problem.
The Hoosiers allowed 35.2 and 37.3 points per game during Wilson's first two seasons. And if the Hoosiers can't improve on the 32.8 points they're allowing this season, which ranks 97th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, it will mark the ninth time in 12 years that Indiana's opponents have averaged at least 30 points.
Things were supposed to be different this season.
Hoosiers coaches repeatedly emphasized the need for defensive improvement throughout the offseason, and in August, it appeared Indiana was better positioned to stop opponents than it had been in years.
It hasn't turned out that way.
Heading into this weekend's Big Ten opener, the Hoosiers are ranked 115th in yards rushing (247.8) and 106th in total defense (463.3 yards), so the bye week turned into a working weekend for Wilson and his coaching staff.
"We've worked very hard to make sure our kids understand the calls and where to go," Wilson said. "I don't think we've played as structurally sound or as clean as we need to. We've had a significant amount of miscommunication and misalignment and we've put a lot of time into it to get it right."
This has not been any typical practice week for the Hoosiers.
Rather than pushing players harder after another sub-standard performance against Missouri and another dismal showing from the defense, Wilson changed the usual practice routine. He gave them a couple of days off, asked them to focus on classes and even treated them like they had won the Missouri game.
It's a dramatic change for the blunt-talking coach, who has never been shy about critiquing his team.
But perhaps that's what the Hoosiers (2-2) need most right now — a good dose of reality and a little support heading into Saturday's game against Penn State.
Coaches, players and fans all expected more with four nonconference games at home.
Now they're heading into the teeth of their schedule with the Penn State game followed by road trips to Michigan State and Michigan. After a second bye week and home games against Minnesota and Illinois, the Hoosiers close out the regular season with trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State before finishing the season against Purdue.
The good news is that the defense hasn't lost hope. Perhaps that's why Wilson hasn't made any significant changes to the depth chart.
"We believe in what we can do," cornerback Tim Bennett said. "We've got a very strong mind, and we spent the bye week focused on what we had to do."
The bad news is that there's no guarantee it will make a difference.
The Hoosiers are scoring 44.5 points, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and are on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns — regardless of who plays quarterback. Even so, there's room for improvement on offense, too.
But unless Indiana improves defensively, it will face a steady diet of runs until the Hoosiers prove they can stop somebody and that will keep their high-powered offense on the sideline.
That's not a recipe for success in Bloomington, and Wilson knows it. So the coaching staff is spending its days off working overtime to find a solution.
"We did put a lot of time on us as much as anything," Wilson said. "We did a lot of self-study and self-evaluation and that's what we worked on."
NOTES: Wilson said starting offensive tackle Peyton Eckert (lower back) probably would not play again this weekend and if the injury continues to linger, the Hoosiers would consider applying for a medical redshirt for the junior. Wilson said everybody, other than two players who have already sustained season-ending injuries, is listed as probable.