Two things to recognize about Indiana football, two games into Kevin Wilson’s third season as coach.
The Hoosiers aren’t as good as they looked in routing Indiana State in week one, and they’re not as bad as they looked in failing to slow Navy in week two.
The Midshipmen ran for 444 yards against IU in Saturday’s 41-35 victory. It’s the most points Navy had scored in a road season opener since 1975, and the program’s first road win over a Big Ten team since 1979.
“We didn’t come out nearly as ready to play as we needed to,” IU defensive back Greg Heban said. “We prepared for them for a year and a half, and it’s just a little discouraging that we didn’t come out and play as well as we needed to.”
The Hoosiers lost 31-30 at Navy last season — “I’ve been trying to get out of playing these guys for two years,” Wilson said — and find themselves struggling to defend Saturday’s result.
But there are a few things about IU’s defense that can be seen as positives.
After Nate Sudfeld threw an interception at Navy’s 3, which Chris Johnson returned to the 30, the Midshipmen drove the field to reach first-and-goal at the IU 2. But with the shortened field ruling out the pitch that Navy used so effectively, the Hoosiers stopped Navy QB Keenan Reynolds for a 1-yard gain; then no gain; and then stuffed Chris Swain for no gain on third-and-goal.
Navy ended up settling for a field goal.
And in the fourth quarter, with Navy ahead 38-28, the Midshipmen reached the IU 14 but had to settle for another field goal after Antonio Allen took Reynolds down for a 4-yard loss — one of four tackles for loss by the Hoosiers.
“In the fourth quarter, we sort of stepped up and showed a little heart and attitude,” Heban said. “But that’s something that we have to come out of the gate with.”
Wilson agreed, saying, “I thought we were a little casual in our prep work here recently, just in our body language and chatter.”
It’s uncertain how much of that could be traced to a young defense who kept hearing how preparation for this game would have little impact on the rest of the schedule. No other team on IU’s schedule uses the triple-option wishbone offense that Navy uses.
“The real deal will be moving forward,” Wilson said. “We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, we won’t see this [offense] anymore.”
While the run defense needs to show improvement for the Hoosiers, the question on offense is whether Wilson will continue to start Tre Roberson.
With Roberson at QB for the first two drives, the Hoosiers went three-and-out, then failed to convert on fourth down. Seven plays, 21 yards, an 0-for-1 passing performance by Roberson.
Sudfeld came off the bench and played the rest of the way, going 31 of 42 for 363 yards, four TDs and the one interception. He also ended up as IU’s top rusher, with 35 yards on six attempts.
“I never ran that much in my life,” he said after the game, with both elbows iced.
Is he the starter?
“No. I don’t know,” Sudfeld said. “It’s not up to me, it’s up to coach. I’ll be ready if my name’s called.”
Sudfeld’s completions, attempts and passing yards on Saturday were career highs. He matched his career high in touchdown passes, set against ISU.
“There’s not a controversy [at QB],” Wilson said. “I just think collectively we are better with a couple of those guys playing, so we’ll see how that goes moving forward.”
Indiana’s margin of error has shrunk. With a tough Big Ten schedule ahead, winning out of conference and winning at home are critical.