On Saturday, his patience was rewarded.
Sudfeld completed 19-of-32 passes for 349 yards and one touchdown and set up the go-ahead score in Indiana’s 48-47 season-opening victory over Southern Illinois Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The 349 passing yards were the second-highest of his career.
”There were a little nerves to start the game,” Sudfeld said. “It felt good to get that hit right off the bat.”
The Modesto, Calif. native played in his first game Saturday since a separated left shoulder he sustained week six of 2014 against Iowa ended his junior campaign.
He was well enough to compete in the spring game in April, the closest he’d been to a full game since that infamous afternoon in Iowa City when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. However, at the team’s media day in early August, he said he didn’t feel 100 percent recovered from the injury until June.
Despite him being at full strength for almost two months, Sudfeld didn’t take many risks on the opening drive. He completed short and medium passes to redshirt junior slot receiver Mitchell Paige for gains of nine and 16 yards respectively, then completed a three-yard pass to senior wide receiver Andre Booker two plays later. The drive ended with Sudfeld handing the ball off to sophomore running back Devine Redding, who ran 13 yards for a touchdown.
Redding, who finished with 16 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns, was happy to have Sudeld back.
”It was very relaxing having Nate back there,” Redding said. “We are able to together as a team (with him).”
Sudfeld gained more confidence as the game progressed, even keeping the ball and rushing for a 21-yard gain at one point in the third quarter. He ran for 46 yards overall.
"I thought about it for like a second on the first one, so I spun to make sure I didn't hit my left shoulder," Sudfeld said. "And then I got hit. I should never do that again, but I was glad I kind of got that out of my system."
But his biggest contribution of the night was a 71-yard completion to redshirt junior wide receiver Ricky Jones with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The reception set up the go-ahead score from the one-yard line for the Hoosiers.
Jones finished with six catches for 186 yards. His lone touchdown was also the first of his college career.
”He’s got a great connection with everybody,” Jones said. “Nate’s throwing it as well as he’s ever thrown it.”
Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said Sudfeld played well, but it was his improvement was even more noticeable during the time he spent off the field.
”He was pretty demanding on the sideline,” Wilson said. “Like, ’I want this and this. What we did in practice – they are lining up different. I don’t want that. Give me this one. Give me this one.’ And it was good and very calm.”
"I just know what I like a lot more," Sudfeld added. "I was not afraid to tell coach Wilson and coach (Kevin) Johns what I saw out there and what routes I wanted to get. It was a very good working relationship with all three of us, kind of what we're seeing and what we want to attack. They were listening to me, which I really appreciated. I have the best point-of-view of all of them and they trust what I have to say."
Early on, Wilson and the coaching staff were playing it cautious for Sudfeld. They ran nearly twice as many running plays (19) as passing plays in the first half before gradually letting Sudfeld air it out in the second.
Part of that can be attributed to the chemistry still being developed between Sudfeld and his receivers, most of whom lacked experience heading into Saturday’s game.
But if Saturday is any indication, that won’t take long to develop.
”The body felt really good,” Sudfeld said. “I didn’t feel very rusty and I felt like I was really in the flow of the game."