Saturday, August 20, 2011

Is Running Back Rotation in IU’s Football Future?

Indiana has hit a wall in its quest to find the next Anthony Thompson for its rushing attack. Darius Willis can’t practice because of continuing issues with his surgically repaired knee, and everybody else is young and inexperienced.

So what is a coach to do?

Here’s the good news -- IU has some talented guys, and if they don’t boast All-America skills, so what. That describes most teams. The Hoosiers don’t need that to win. They do need tailbacks who can get the tough yards, block when necessary and hold onto the ball.

At least there’s plenty of depth, and with the pace coach Kevin Wilson wants to play, it will get tested.

Stephen Houston put up impressive junior college numbers, and at 6-foot and 228 pounds, he has Big Ten-caliber size. True freshman D’Angelo Roberts is swift and elusive, although at 5-10 and 187 pounds he’s the smallest of the running backs. Redshirt freshman Matt Perez and sophomore Nick Turner have potential.

Those are the top contenders right now, or as coach Kevin Wilson put it, “It’s a four-headed horse right now.”

After Saturday’s super secret scrimmage, the word was the horse lost a head. Houston, Roberts and Perez are now the guys.

Heading into the scrimmage, Wilson had fumbling concerns.

“Some of them look pretty good, but they don’t hold onto the ball when they get hit a little bit,” he said. “We’re trying to correct that with different means -- you don’t play or you have a little penance if you put the ball on the ground. That’s the quickest way to lose games. More games are lost than are won.”

Those corrections apparently paid dividends in the scrimmage. According to Wilson via IU Athletics, ball security wasn’t a problem. There weren’t any fumbles or interceptions, which was good considering there were 130 snaps, including 65 involving the first and second units.

As far as Perez, Roberts and Houston, Wilson said via an athletic department video that, “They can do better in learning and recognition, but they did take care of the ball.”

As far as Willis, it’s looking more and more like he’ll never be the player his potential suggested. Injuries have ruined plenty of careers in every sport. Some guys can stay injury free. Some can’t. Willis hasn’t been healthy since he arrived in Bloomington. Maybe that will change. It’s not too late for him. He does have two more years of eligibity remaining, and there are two more weeks before the Sept. 3 season opener against Ball State. He can get healthy and start dominating. But the Hoosiers aren’t waiting on him. So Perez, Roberts and Houston get the bulk of the practice reps and the only certainty is that the guy who gives IU the best chance to win will play the most.


Remember Steve Downing, the former Hoosier basketball standout who once burned Kentucky for 47 points and 25 rebounds, the guy who won Big Ten MVP honors in 1973 by averaging a double double (20.1 points, 10.6 rebounds)?

He’s back in Indiana, the home state he left to stay close to former IU coach Bob Knight when Knight was fired by the university and took the Texax Tech job a decade ago. Now Downing is the athletic director at Marian University in Indianapolis. It’s a NAIA school with more than 400 athletes in 21 sports.


We get it. The Big Ten won’t expand unless it has to. Conference officials made that point clear last December, and nothing has changed. Except it almost did change with Texas A&M pushing for SEC acceptance. The SEC said no -– for now –- but Texas A&M has made it clear it’s had it with the Big 12 Conference and Texas. It will eventually find a new conference and when it does, a shakeup will occur.

Will it be enough to trigger a major expansion push?

Anything is possible, but logic suggests, yes. More expansion is coming, probably within the next five years, perhaps sooner. Change is part of life, especially in the whirlwind that has become college athletics.

So while the Big Ten released a statement saying it is not actively engaged in expansion at this time, or at any time in the foreseeable future, that won’t mean much if the other power conferences start expanding.

Make that “when” they start expanding.

Still, for now the Big Ten is happy with the addition of Nebraska.

“We’re about as comfortable as we can be with where we are,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “We’ve said we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members.”

So that’s where it stands – for now.

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