â€œWelcome to Indiana football, Coach!â€
Every longtime Hoosier fan had to be thinking something along those lines as the clock ran out on the first head coaching loss of Kevin Wilsonâ€™s IU career.
â€œNow you know what weâ€™re used to dealing with.â€
A 27-20 loss to the Ball State Cardinals is obviously not the way that many envisioned Wilsonâ€™s tenure starting. Judging by an offseason stuffed to the gills with tailgate tours, recruiting windfall, talk show controversy and â€œWin Todayâ€, itâ€™s entirely possible that nothing short of Gunner Kiel descending from the heavens to personally smite Indianaâ€™s first opponent would live up to the hype.
The beginning of the game was promising enough, as the Hoosiers grounded and pounded their way to the end zone on a 15 play opening drive that ended with them converting a 4th and goal power run for a touchdown.
It was pure Big Ten football, and it was the high point of the game. The next offensive drive sputtered, Ball State scored and Wilsonâ€™s coronation devolved into a dogfight that Indiana would eventually lose.
Hoosier fans that had been hoping for quick, on-field results doubtlessly left the game disappointed (after all, it doesnâ€™t look like IU did anything resembling â€œWinning Todayâ€, unless weâ€™re counting the offense getting to the line more quickly).
The team didnâ€™t carry themselves with a readily apparent new energy, the Oklahoma playbook didnâ€™t translate to an automatic 40 points and Wilson definitely didnâ€™t bring over any members of the Oklahoma roster.
The rationalizations are already swirling: maybe thatâ€™s easier to stomach if we take a look at the roster.
Between a totally unproven quarterback, a trio of unproven running backs, and a defense proven last year to be pretty horrific, expectations may have been a little too lofty out of the gate.
Looking at this roster before Wilson was even hired, it looked like the definition of a 3-9 or 2-10 football team, and though only one game has been played, itâ€™s not a stretch to suggest that Wilson doesnâ€™t improve this team right away.
At the same time though, the loss didnâ€™t seem quite like business as usual for the Hoosiers. Indiana may have looked more like a MAC team than anything else on Saturday night, but Wilson was surprisingly willing to admit as much. He definitely wasnâ€™t Bill Lynch. He didnâ€™t go out of his way to praise Ball State, and he was brutally honest with his assessment of the game:
â€œWeâ€™re not going to panic, weâ€™re going to get betterâ€¦ but weâ€™re going to need to see some serious improvement if weâ€™re going to be knock on wood worth a flip this year.â€
Those arenâ€™t the words of a head football coach who plans on accepting this kind of performance a regular basis.
The way Wilson handled his inaugural press conference was a beacon of hope on an otherwise dreary evening. He answered every question matter-of-factly, his body language no different than any of his other press conferences. He looked like he wasnâ€™t particularly surprised or dismayed at the outcome of the game, just annoyed by it.
Following his cue, maybe thatâ€™s the most accurate diagnosis of Saturdayâ€™s result: an annoyance that will pass with enough work and development.
This game shows that Indiana football definitely wonâ€™t be an easy or quick fix. On the contrary, it will take some time to build properly.
But you can bet that Kevin Wilson and his staff wonâ€™t be taking any days off.