Coffee. Red Bull. Monster.
Those beverages mean little to Kevin Wilson. But he knows the common theme: caffeine. And as Year 4 of the Wilson era begins, the Indiana head coach is plenty energized to turn around a program that’s been short on success since an economist and university professor coached the first group of Hoosiers in 1887.
I’m not flat a lot of days, Wilson said Monday at his weekly news conference. I’ve never had one of those energy drinks. I don’t need those. Nothing against those 5-Hour guys and all the Monster drinks you guys have, but I don’t need that. I’m ready to roll.
It’s welcome news for Indiana, which has improved steadily during Wilson’s tenure. After a discouraging debut season of 1-11, Wilson’s Hoosiers won nine games over the next two seasons, surpassing the previous year’s win total in each instance.
Still, an emptiness has lingered. Six seasons have passed since Indiana’s last postseason appearance. It’s a hot topic around Bloomington and an absence that hasn’t gone unnoticed by coaches and players. As a new season dawns, Wilson knows missed opportunities cannot be squandered like years past.
I think the team is more prepared, and that excites me, he said. We’ve been close the last couple of years. You can say, Hey, you have underachieved.’ But we haven’t. We’ve lost some games where at the end we couldn’t make a play we needed to. We’ve been on the verge of winning six, seven, eight games the last couple years. We’ve been a little shy of that. This team could do the same thing, or this team could stay shy. (I’m) looking forward to seeing how these guys want to ride it out.
Recent deficiencies for the Hoosiers have related to defense. Last season’s unit ranked near the bottom nationally in every team defensive category, including 120th (out of 123) in total defense, 115th in rush defense, 114th in scoring defense and 113th in pass defense.
Defensive woes were ultimately Indiana’s downfall in a 5-7 season that was a third-down stop here or forced turnover there away from a bowl berth. The Hoosiers were 5-0 when allowing fewer than 40 points, a dubious statistic.
New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr brings a track record of fixing leaky defenses and heightening expectations. His 3-4 alignment and scheme is viewed as the missing link Indiana has sought to reach just its second bowl game since 1993.
We’re an attacking defense, Knorr said. I think a successful day for our defense is to play fast. We need to minimize what we’re doing initially. Part of our goals is to not allow explosive plays, be lined up and not make mental errors.
To help point the unit in the right direction, Knorr’s implemented a new tackling technique that mirrors what NFL teams do. College football has been plagued in recent seasons by missed tackles, something Indiana knows all too well.
With a bye week after the opener against Indiana State, the Hoosiers are poised to gather early momentum.
Our kids need confidence, Knorr said. Last spring, that’s one of the things I noticed – when they had success, they gained confidence. So it will be important for us to have success, and success early. With that success, they’ll have more confidence and they’ll play faster.
If all goes according to plan, Wilson will have another fall free of energy drinks.