Saturday, November 26, 2011
IU Braces for Butler; What's Next for Football Hoosiers, Part I
Are you wondering why Indiana is doing this Hoosier Invitational basketball thing when it could have gone to some exempt tournament at some tropical paradise setting?
The No. 1 reason, it seems, is money. The Hoosiers, like a lot of athletic departments around the country, need more of it. That’s true even with the Big Ten Network pumping in millions to each conference school.
The Hoosier Invitational, which was spread out over two weeks, allowed IU to get four more home games. It also featured three, and we’re being nice here, not so strong opponents in Chattanooga, Savannah State and Gardner-Webb. The Hoosiers slaughtered them.
“We have to play so many home games every year because the department is dependent on the revenue,” coach Tom Crean said in a university release.
As far as scheduling, IU wants to keep a balance between home games and away, from really challenging games and those that are as close to guarantee wins as you can get in this parity driven era.
“We really look at scheduling on a year to year basis and we already have the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Kentucky series, and the Crossroads Classic for next year,” Crean said, “so we have to look for an exempt tournament and home games each year moving forward.”
Now comes Sunday night’s finale against Butler, the national runner-up the last two seasons doing some major rebuilding under coach Brad Stevens.
Stevens seems up to the task. He won 117 games in his first four seasons as a head coach, which are 10 more than any coach in history. The previous record holder, if you’re wondering, was North Carolina State’s Everette Case.
Anyway, Butler has struggled to a 3-2 record. It was lucky to escape Gardner-Webb after trailing by 17 in the second half.
No matter. Crean has plenty of reasons for concern.
“Their veteran guys have experience winning at the highest level, and have done a great job transferring their experience to their younger players,” Crean said. “They play very well together. They execute their offense and cut hard. Defensively they will get into you and make you work for everything you get.
These Hoosiers seem to enjoy such work. Figure they will handle the Bulldogs.
Is Kevin Wilson the coach to lead the Indiana football program out of the wilderness of never-ending losing?
It’s way too early to tell.
Still, early signs aren’t good.
He directed one of the worst teams in program history, capped with a competitive 33-25 loss to rival Purdue in Saturday’s season-ending finale. The Boilers won back the Old Oaken Bucket and became bowl eligible. The Hoosiers won nothing but, perhaps, hope.
“(Indiana) has a lot coming back,” senior tight end Max Dedmond said. “They have great, quality guys coming back. I have confidence in them and that they’ll do fine.
“I feel like we did a great job since Coach Wilson got here to build our program up. I have confidence that they’ll do well.”
The Hoosiers played 32 freshmen. No other team in the country played as many. Sixteen of those were true freshmen.
It wasn’t necessarily by choice. Some of it was due to injury, some because veterans left (biggest reason -- they didn’t like Wilson) or were asked to leave. Some because the younger guys practiced harder and Wilson and his staff weren’t about to compromise their standards.
So IU got younger and got worse. It lost its last nine games to finish 1-11. It is the only team in a Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying conference to not beat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
What does that mean?
The Hoosiers stunk. The defense was miserable, which has become a Cream ‘n Crimson tradition. Still, this one might have been the worst in a generation, or a century.
All that youth doesn’t guarantee future success. Inconsistent younger players can become inconsistent older players if they don’t improve and grow. Wilson said as much.
“If they play the same, you’ll get the same results,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll be smart enough by playing to realize their deficiencies and what they need to work on.
“Do I lack strength and size? Do I have the knowledge to be a capable, quality player?
“You because you play as young guys doesn’t mean you’ll be better as you move forward unless you use that as motivation, as a learning tool.”
IU showed some learning against favored Purdue. Three times it built seven-point leads, gave itself a fourth-quarter chance with a 76-yard touchdown drive (capped by a 2-point conversion) just when the Boilers were poised to take control.
The Hoosiers still had a chance near the end of the fourth quarter until Tre Roberson’s deep pass to Nick Stoner was intercepted by cornerback Josh Johnson. Both players seemed to have possession as they hit the ground, with Johnson then ripping the ball away. Officials said it wasn’t a reviewable play.
Perhaps the bigger issue is that Stoner has to get strong enough so that nobody rips the ball away from him. Lack of strength was a MAJOR problem this season, perhaps because of the Hoosiers’ off-season emphasis on “leaning” the players up.
It sounded good in theory. Make guys fitter so they could handle Wilson’s full-throttle tempo. Wear down opponents. Win games.
In reality it was a disaster. The Hoosiers lacked the size and strength necessary to handle major college ball. Even Ball State, for goodness sake, an average Mid-American Conference team, manhandled IU up front on both sides of the ball.
Strength building will be a major off-season point of emphasis. It will start on Monday.
Yes, the Hoosiers can’t afford to take much of a break. When you’re this bad, you need all the work you can get.