UFR: An empty feeling
Staff writer Bob Asmussen's take on the loss to Indiana:
— Where is everyone? The News-Gazette travel party arrived at Memorial Stadium three hours before the game and traffic was not a problem. At all.
We did see a familiar face, Collin Ferguson, the father of Illini running back Josh. On a windy day, he was wearing layers. Smart move.
— Has Indiana football caught on? Ask the guy in charge of the press elevator. He was talking Hoosiers ... basketball. If you ask about football, the response is a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh.
— They do like their fireworks in Bloomington. Just before kickoff, a stream of booming blasts was heard near the stadium. It will be like the Fourth of July in D.C. if Indiana ever becomes a power.
— We had read about the candy-striped helmets the Hoosiers have in their collection this season. But until you see them in person, you can’t appreciate the USFLishness of the look. Somebody thought this was a good idea. Not anyone with fashion sense.
But Santa has to be happy.
— On its first drive of the game, Illinois faced short yardage on fourth down. It had moved the ball well into the wind. Instead of going for it, which is what a 3-5 team should do, Illinois sent in punter Justin DuVernois. No surprise, his punt went into the end zone for a 13-yard net. No surprise II, Indiana needed just two plays to go 80 yards for its first score of the game.
What Illinois needed early was a quick score. The way Ferguson was running, he would have been a safe bet.
The players are never going to gain any confidence if they aren’t given the chance to convert a short fourth-down play.
— How did Tevin Coleman get away from Illinois? The Oak Forest alum was a News-Gazette All-Stater and now ranks among the best runners in the conference. A backfield with Coleman and Ferguson might give Wisconsin’s duo of Melvin Gordon and James White a run for their money.
— Apparently, the Indiana coaches didn’t watch any tape of the Illini going into the game. How else to explain the Hoosiers seemingly ignoring Ferguson on the first Illinois scoring drive. Indiana made Ferguson look like Rashard Mendenhall. The good version.
— Indiana must have skipped Steve Hull’s highlight tape, too. The senior tied the game on a 60-yard touchdown catch and run late in the first quarter. A close friend of Nathan Scheelhaase, Hull has helped fill the gap left by injured Ryan Lankford.
— And Illinois didn’t self scout. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have run consecutive quarterback sneaks in the second quarter with freshman Aaron Bailey. Everyone in the stadium, including the sports writers, knew the plays were coming. Bailey was stuffed on both tries to end the threat.
Time flies when you are covering a struggling football program.
Dustin Dopirak is in his fifth year as the primary Indiana football beat writer for the Bloomington Herald Times. There haven’t been a lot of wins to write about. Or bowl games.
Kevin Wilson is trying to fix the Indiana football mess. It has been one step forward, two steps back.
What’s it going to take to make the Hoosiers consistent winners? Start with more talent.
“And defense and luck, and I’m not sure in what order,” Dopirak said. “Luck might actually come first. Obviously, this conversation has been had for years at Indiana, and certainly the fact that Indiana as a state is more focused on basketball and produces much more basketball talent doesn’t help football’s cause. The fact that the football program doesn’t fill its modestly sized stadium doesn’t help, either, and the program could use more resources.”
The basketball team wins at a high level. You would think there might be some carryover.
“I think you could certainly argue that the historical success of Indiana basketball was part of what made Indiana a basketball state and encouraged more of the best schoolboy athletes to focus on basketball over football, so maybe that had a net negative effect because Indiana wasn’t as fertile of a recruiting ground. It’s certainly much better now, but because Indiana has consistently lost, it hasn’t been in as good of a position as it might otherwise have been to take advantage.”
The fans are fickle when it comes to Wilson. The team just lost to Minnesota in a game it could have won. That hurt the coach’s profile in the state.
They like the offense. Most of it.
“There’s some disagreement over whether they should play as fast as they do considering how bad the defense is, but they can’t look at what the offense has accomplished and not notice that he has an outstanding X’s-and-O’s football mind and that he’s also a good recruiter,“ Dopirak said. “I think they very much like the attitude he’s brought to the program and the standard he’s set in terms of work ethic. He stands up for the program a lot more boldly than some coaches in IU’s past, and I think that’s something they appreciate as well. But there’s some level of impatience that’s starting to form, and some people are wondering why IU had to pay $1.25 million for the same win-loss results as a guy in Bill Lynch who was making just over half of that.”
Despite the inconsistency, Wilson has been fine with the media after a shaky first year.
“The first spring he was pretty much gruff with everybody and seemed like he was competing with himself to make a better wisecrack with every answer,” Dopirak said. “But I think a big part of it was that he didn’t really like his team at that point. I think the first fall really humbled him in a way, and he realized we were pretty fair as a media contingent because we didn’t straight up eviscerate him for going 1-11.”
IN THE STADIUM
— No fancy suite for Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean. Instead, the most popular sports figure in town sits in the stands. Often with his players. A man of the people.