In a post-election day column, focusing on the message might send someone into a fit of rage. You’ve had enough about “messages” lately, I get it.
But on election day, that was the take away from Kevin Wilson’s weekly news conference in Bloomington. His team isn’t thinking about going “forward,” nor are they promising “change in America.” (Or at least the Hoosier Nation.) His message was very clear.
We’re getting there, but it’s still about what this team is doing in practice everyday, and worried much more about its own improvement than who’s coming down the pike next.
Each Tuesday, we hear from coach Wilson, in addition to offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler. It almost works out like a good cop/bad cop routine. Littrell and Wilson are never mean-spirited or down on their players, but are very cautious in passing out praise. It’s always about having to keep getting better, about taking small steps, improving practice habits and work habits.
Sandwiched in between that is Ekeler, always with a smile on his face, cracking a joke on every question and uttering phrases like this: “I don’t have many personal goals, but one of them is to have more fun than anyone coaching the game.”
Or, there’s this: “Our guys love playing. Are we perfect? No, but if you went into our locker room (with the players attitude and enthusiasm), you’d think we’re undefeated.”
There was a lot of reference in yesterday’s session about chemistry, primarily the unique relationship of Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, who have seemed to combine for one solid Big Ten quarterback over the last several weeks. There’s also a great chemistry amongst those on the staff in Bloomington. It’s a great mix of enthusiasm needed to get a young team through tough times, mixed in with a dose of reality check that what’s been taking place is better, yet still not good enough to get where this program wants to go.
“We don’t talk a lot about the game until the end of the week,” stated Wilson. “It’s all about the preparation and the process of getting better.”
One very important byproduct of wins in each of the last two weeks has to be confidence. You can deliver positive messages about getting better, and that can be evident to fans and media alike, but there can’t be a belief there until tangible results begin to show on scoreboards. And that’s happened over the last two Saturdays.
Now, can that happen again this Saturday against a far better opponent than Illinois or Iowa? Wisconsin has looked very pedestrian at times this year. In fact, if you do comparison shopping, the results in their two common teams played is stunningly similar.
Indiana lost at home to Michigan State by four. Wisconsin lost at home to Sparty by three. Indiana won at Illinois by two touchdowns, 31-17. Wisconsin beat Illinois in Camp Randall 31-14.
The only two teams that Wisconsin has handled with ease this year are Purdue and Minnesota. Two teams that appear to be the bottom of the Big Ten, a place that maybe Indiana doesn’t belong in any more.
Also of note is the season-ending injury to freshman QB Joel Stave. Danny O’Brien returns as the starter after being replaced by Stave earlier in the season. O’Brien was the starter the last two seasons at Maryland, but hasn’t brought the same magic that Russell Wilson was able to conjure up in his one season in Madison.
One thing that Mike Ekeler touched on his statements Tuesday was that this Wisconsin team is a different team on film than in years past. Multiple formations, a much more balanced attack. The stats show that Ekeler couldn’t be more right, at least in terms of balance. The Badgers are averaging 180.4 yards per game rushing, and 180.8 yards per game passing this season.
The balanced attack could go back to old school Badger football this weekend. Head coach Bret Bielema might elect to take the pressure off of the backup quarterback, and let former Heisman front runner Montee Ball carry the load. Even with more of an emphasis on the passing game this year, Ball still is over 1000 yards rushing with three weeks left in the regular season.
Can the Hoosiers overcome Wisconsin’s superior size and pedigree to win their third straight Big Ten game for the first time since 1993? History would tell you no. Remember, the last two years in Madison the Hoosiers have lost 83-20 and 59-7. The last Indiana win in the series was 10 years ago in Gerry DiNardo’s first season in Bloomington.
But the numbers for this year tell you yes. Indiana hasn’t been blown out in a single Big Ten game. Wisconsin hasn’t been putting up those point totals of 59 and 83 on anyone this season. Just like a Big Ten title game, and more likely a bowl game of some form or fashion, the Hoosiers have a chance. And that’s far better than most of us expected when the season started.
Ball State 34, Toledo 27
If you just couldn’t bring yourself to watch election coverage last night, you pretty much had one option for sports. Ball State and Toledo did their part by making sure it was a “red” state v. “blue” state in the Glass Bowl. Kudos to the person that had the foresight to have both teams wear their home colors on national TV.
Ball State locked in a bowl bid by knocking off the BCS ranked Rockets in picking up their third straight win away from Schuemann Stadium, and fourth consecutive win in total. With leagues like the ACC and Big Ten struggling to fill all of their bowl slots, Ball State likely would have made a bowl game with six wins. But now standing at 7-3 with two games remaining, the Cards know they’ll be playing extra football this season for the first time in four years.
The Cards overcame a rare three-interception night for Keith Wenning, who would also throw three touchdowns, two to Jamill Smith. Jahwan Edwards scored the game winning TD with under two minutes to play on a 15-yard run.
Ball State returns home for another game under the national ESPN lights next Wednesday in their home finale against Ohio, who was nationally ranked before losing to Kent State a few weeks back. Regardless of what happens in the last two games, it’s been a great season in Muncie.
Small college season wraps for most on Saturday
For the Division II, III, and NAIA schools, Saturday is the final day of regular season competition. For Butler, their season will also end on Saturday, but what a season it’s been.
With a win at Drake, the Bulldogs would claim their second Pioneer Football League championship in four years. There’s not a post-season spot this year for the ‘Dogs, as the league will not get an auto-bid into the FCS playoffs until next year. However, they are playing for the school’s third championship in the 20-year history of the league. It’d also be the first time in completing an undefeated league season and sole possession of first place in PFL play.
For Indianapolis, their first NCAA Division II playoff spot is on the line with a road-trip to Urbana. No league opponent has been closer than 19 points to the Hounds in the first season of GLVC football, but Urbana enters the game at 7-3 overall, and 5-2 in GLVC play. The last post-season game for UIndy occurred when it played Division III football in 1975.
The Victory Bell game in Franklin needs no additional buildup. However, the winner will get an automatic bid to the DIII playoffs. Franklin has represented the HCAC in post-season play four of the last five years, and much like Indianapolis, really hasn’t been challenged in league play. Hanover lost for the first time in league play last week, but would still win the league having the head-to-head advantage over the Grizzlies with the win. The Panthers last won the league in 2003.
Amazingly, in terms of small college football games, the fourth game on our “depth chart” is the Monon Bell game. Blame DePauw’s sudden and steep decline in football, plus Wabash’s surprising two losses in NCAC play for a lack of drama leading into this game. Many times in the last decade, with these teams being in different conferences, both would be heading into post-season play after this game. That’s not the case this season. The Tigers are just 2-7, while Wabash has a flickering chance of getting a playoff berth at 7-2. These two will have to settle for simply playing in front of about 10,000 fans and a national TV audience on Saturday.