KEVIN WILSON had been waiting a long time to become a head coach, so the opportunity to run his own program in a conference as prestigious as the Big Ten must have been a lure too difficult to resist for the former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Besides, weren't the Indiana Hoosiers a powerhouse with a rich tradition?
You bet they are - in basketball. Legendary coaches Branch McCracken and Bobby Knight, a host of All-Americas and five national championships offer ample proof that you can win big at IU if the ball is round and can be shot into a metal hoop.
In football, however, the Hoosiers' history is far less praiseworthy. The last Indiana coach to post a winning career record was Bo McMillin, who went 63-48-11 from 1937 to '41. Even John Pont, the only coach ever to take Indiana to the Rose Bowl, which he did to cap the magical 1967 season that ended in a 14-3 loss to Southern California and its superb tailback O.J. Simpson, finished 31-51-1 in his eight seasons in Bloomington.
But Wilson, who received the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach after Oklahoma set NCAA records in 2008 by scoring 60 or more points in five straight games and 716 for the season, will have to pull a few rabbits out of the hat to make the bunch he inherited from Bill Lynch competitive in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers were 5-7 in 2010 (1-7 in conference games) and are off to a thudding 1-3 start this season, including an embarrassing 24-21 loss at North Texas last week. Somehow, someway, they must dust themselves off and must find a way to deal with heavily favored Penn State when the 3-1 Nittany Lions come calling tomorrow afternoon.
While it is true that Indiana's crimson-and-cream uniforms might superficially resemble those worn by the Oklahoma players Wilson left behind, the reality is that the team the new coach will send out tomorrow has had a long-term lease on the Big Ten cellar.
"Yeah, we have some talent issues, but we can help [the players'] development," Wilson said. "We can play so much harder and so much more physical than we have. We're not close to playing to our capabilities."
Wilson has brought Oklahoma's no-huddle, hurry-up, spread offense to his new assignment, the idea being that it will tire defenses and maybe allow the Hoosiers to sneak past the occasional favored opponent until more help arrives. It just might work out that way, too, if Wilson and IU administrators are patient. Five-star quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel, whose brother, redshirt sophomore Dusty Kiel, is IU's backup quarterback, has orally committed to be a part of the recruiting Class of 2012, and his reputation and Wilson's frenetic sales pitch might be enough to draw in other high school players of similar pedigree.
"Kids grew up watching Peyton [Manning]," Wilson said when he took the Indiana job, referencing the Indianapolis Colts superstar. "A lot of 'em are wearing Colts jerseys. Why aren't they wearing Hoosiers jerseys? We want to change that."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno isn't as familiar with Wilson as he is with Big Ten coaches who have been in the league longer, but he figures that anyone who played so big a role in making Oklahoma a national powerhouse has to have a pretty good idea of what he's doing. Besides, the Lions didn't exactly blow through the Hoosiers in 2010, breaking from a 24-24 deadlock late in the third quarter to win 41-24 after the pivotal play saw Andrew Dailey block an IU punt with Jamie Van Fleet returning it for a touchdown.
Matt McGloin passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and he's back, splitting time at quarterback with Rob Bolden. But Wilson expects the Lions to pound away at the Hoosiers' thin front line with tailback Silas Redd, just as North Texas did with its top running back, Lance Dunbar, who shredded IU for 279 total yards, 127 rushing and 152 on pass receptions.
"Very disappointing. We couldn't stop the run or get our own run game going," Wilson said of his bunch being manhandled by a bad North Texas team. The Mean Green outgained the Hoosiers, 317-161, in the first half and fell behind by 24-0 before making it close with three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Statistically at least, Indiana is a better offensive team than Penn State. The Hoosiers are 58th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, averaging 413.75 yards per game, while the Lions are 89th at 346.50 ypg. But Indiana hasn't played a team nearly as good as Alabama or, for that matter, Temple. The numbers will present a truer picture of where the Hoosiers are, and how far they need to go, as they march deeper into the Big Ten portion of their schedule.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
* A monster, 150-yard rushing performance by Penn State tailback Silas Redd. It's about time for this kid to go crazy, and the Hoosiers might be the team to allow him to do it.
* An attempt by IU to "quit being so cute and fancy,'' as Wilson described his gimmicky offense. But taking on dominant Lions defensive tackle Devon Still head-on isn't such a great idea. Cute and fancy might work better.
* Now that Anthony Fera has added placekicking to his punting duties, don't expect to see misfiring Evan Lewis get a chance to try many more field goals, if any.
Who: Penn State at Indiana
When: Tomorrow, noon
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: Penn State 3-1, 0-0 Big Ten; Indiana 1-3, 0-0
Radio: WNTP (990-AM); WPNV (1440-AM)
History: With last year's 41-24 victory in Landover, Md., the Nittany Lions improved their record in the series to a perfect 14-0. Penn State fans will never forget the 1994 game, when coach Joe Paterno took out most of his first-team defensive players with the Nits up, 35-13, in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers scored two late touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to lose by a deceivingly close 35-29 margin and Penn State was passed for the top spot in the polls by Nebraska. Even though PSU finished 12-0, it couldn't overtake the Cornhuskers and what might have been JoePa's best team had to settle for No. 2.
Coaches: Paterno, 404-136-3, 46th year; Kevin Wilson 1-3, first year.
About Penn State: Shoring up the running game is a priority. The Lions rushed for 245 yards in their opener against Indiana State, but only 303 combined yards in the three games since. "I think that's a fair assessment to have," tackle Chima Okoli said when asked if the offensive line has played below expectations. "We have had [too many] penalties in the past few weeks, myself included. We have to own up to our responsibility and do our jobs better" . . . Expect a lot of carries for starting tailback Silas Redd, who leads the team with 303 yards rushing. Stephon Green is still suspended for disciplinary reasons and Brandon Beachum will sit out the second straight game with a sprained foot.
About Indiana: Wilson said there is no quarterback controversy at his school, although starter Edward Wright-Baker couldn't get anything going in last week's 24-21 loss at North Texas and backup Dusty Kiel passed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Hoosiers rallied for three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes . . . Wright-Baker, a 6-1, 220-pound redshirt sophomore, has completed 80 of 129 passes for 925 yards and four touchdowns. Those statistics aren't bad, but Wilson said too many yards have come between the 20-yard lines. "We're not doing the job in the red zone," he complained. "We're moving the football, gaining some yardage. We just aren't transferring it into points" . . . Junior running back Darius Willis, the Hoosiers' leading rusher in 2009, hasn't played since the fourth game of 2010 with a knee injury.
Penn State 35, Indiana 14.