Indiana football is currently in an interesting place.
A week after a 59-7 annihilation at the hands of Wisconsin, intriguing new revelations continue to pop up from the coaching staff, Kevin Wilson in particular. Itâ€™s not so much the revelations themselves that are intriguing; rather, itâ€™s curious that these particular revelations are seeing the light of day in the manner that they are. Allow me to explain.
Fans â€“ by definition â€“ are a passionate group that can grow noticeably impatient and frustrated when their team doesnâ€™t play up to expectations.
A coaching staff has a stricter set of standards and expectations for its team to live up to, but the term â€˜coach-speak â€˜ exists for a reason. Many coaches arenâ€™t huge fans of publically addressing team weaknesses in the media and instead do a good job at deflecting pointed questions with words like â€˜executionâ€™, â€˜techniqueâ€™ and â€˜coachingâ€™.
This particular coaching staff has a solid group in terms of consorting with the media this season â€“ often taking plenty of time to answer questions and provide useful quotes â€“ but have often been tough to interpret, keeping practices closed and not being afraid of spouting clichÃ©s when it suits them.
As a result, their heavy criticism of the IU football team during Tuesdayâ€™s media availability was noteworthy. Perhaps it was called for, considering Saturdayâ€™s result, but coaches Wilson and Ekeler pointed out the Hoosiersâ€™ deficiencies more vigorously than they had in any other week up to this point. Ekelerâ€™s stark assessment of the Hoosiersâ€™ defensive play highlighted the afternoon.
â€œI had a bad feeling going in because of what I saw with guys we consider to be leaders not practicing really hard, and their play on the field showed that,â€ said Ekeler. â€œI look at our conference season that weâ€™ve made progress on defense every week except for last week. Last week we laid an egg. We played uninspired, played undisciplined and maybe a little scared.â€
â€œI told some of them that if they play like that against Iowa, they can invite their families down and treat it like their own senior day, because thatâ€™s the last time theyâ€™re going to play.â€
For a coach looking to get the attention of his team, thatâ€™s certainly one way to go about doing it. At the same time, we havenâ€™t heard such a strong statement about the team before today, and that could be an indication of some frustration beginning to build amongst the coaching staff. The defense wasnâ€™t the only area to draw negative attention, as Wilson called out just about every facet of the offense for underperforming so far this season.
â€œI had been of the opinion before the season that our wide receivers and our offensive line would be the groups that would have led us, and those groups have been the most inconsistent groups,â€ said Wilson. “Receiver play has been very, very poor with all the drops, haven’t played with any sense of speed or urgency. When you watch our receivers, they play fast on a pass and when itâ€™s a run, they jog off the ballâ€¦ right now, weâ€™re a passing game and an offense thatâ€™s completely out of sync and thatâ€™s real.”
He wasnâ€™t done.
â€œI would have thought the tight end group would be a little bit better than it has been. Ted Bolser had 3 penalties and 15 plays and I got tired of seeing him hurt us so I let Max Dedmond in and let (Dedmond) play the game out. Hereâ€™s a guy (Bolser) who had some touchdowns (last year), who should be a good player. Well, he doesnâ€™t practice that way and he doesnâ€™t play that way.â€
Not all of the feedback was negative, as true freshman safety Mark Murphy and sophomore running back Stephen Houston both were touted as positive examples for the rest of the team. Ekeler referred to Murphy as â€˜one of our defensive MVPs this yearâ€™ and Wilson praised Houston for following up a couple of solid games with another one against the Badgers.
For the most part though, this seems to still be a team that is struggling with the base values that the staff is trying to instill. The fact that thereâ€™s an obvious difference in the effort of the wide receivers on a pass play as opposed to a run play isnâ€™t just disappointing, itâ€™s a tactical disadvantage (Wilson asserted that a defense can tell when Indiana is in a running play based on how the receivers come off the line of scrimmage).
At this point in the season, the Hoosiers should be fine-tuning more technical things like weekly schematic adjustments, not something as remedial as play-to-play effort and intensity. Itâ€™s not at all surprising that the coaches are struggling to keep their patience with this team at this point in the season, because it appears that a few players on this team donâ€™t understand whatâ€™s necessary to be part of a winning football team.
This type of open media approach could be a dangerous one for Wilson and his staff, as it could make interacting with his players more difficult. It seems though, to be a risk worth taking. The only players currently being called out seem to be the ones who arenâ€™t practicing or playing as hard as they could or should be playing.
Players like Houston, Murphy and some of the other younger players seem to have embraced what Wilson is selling, and are playing as well or better than anyone else on the team, which gives at least some hope for the future. The coaches have admitted that the way they play and the way they practice is definitely a high-stress environment. As a result, it wouldnâ€™t surprise me to see the attrition that weâ€™ve seen so far this season continue at the end of the year. However, if what weâ€™ve seen this year is any indication, the players who continue to show commitment to the program will be the types of players that Hoosier football fans can be proud of.
“Itâ€™s not all doom and gloom up here,â€ Wilson said. â€œWe just need to play a heck of a lot better. The bottom line is that you make the bed you sleep in and weâ€™ll keep living in the bed that weâ€™re making in the short term.â€
There is a light at the end of this tunnel. There are players on this team who are playing the way that the coaches want to see them play.
Right now, there just arenâ€™t enough of them.