Strange but true: Indiana is 2-0 when trailing at halftime.
Down by one at halftime against FIU and 11 against Southern Illinois the week prior, the Hoosiers managed to win both of those close games despite facing those deficits.
”Well, it beats losing,” Wilson said. “I prefer, like somebody is up 60-something in the half.”
While Wilson and the Hoosiers would be much more comfortable leading at the end of the second quarter, the ability to overcome adversity and what transpired gave them much-needed experience.
The SIU game gave the opportunity for the Indiana offense to mount its own comeback and the defense to learn from mistakes. The Florida International game provided the defense the opportunity to win the game while the offense sputtered and learned from its mistakes.
”Our kids battled and were a lot more aggressive,” Wilson said, “and I think that’s a building block to move forward.”
Indiana’s opponents combined to gain more than 1,000 yards of total offense against the Hoosier defense, so there’s still room for improvement. Cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby said the young freshman defensive backs care and are the best group he’s coached.
”The great thing about those young guys is what they don’t know, they don’t know,” Shelby said. “At the end of the day, them playing hard a lot of times alleviates mistakes. For instance, I think (Jameel) Cook was supposed to blitz on that 95-yard touchdown. Well he messed up, and he don’t know what he don’t know. So at the end of the day, you say, ‘great job, don’t ever do it again.’”
Western Kentucky, the Hoosiers’ week three opponent, finished last season with the sixth-best scoring average in the country at 44.4 points per game. Sixth-year quarterback Brandon Doughty’s 4,830 passing yards and 49 touchdowns led the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) last year.
In other words, focus, along with getting the most out of both sides of the ball, will be at a premium Saturday in what will likely be a high-scoring affair.
This season, Doughty is averaging 325 yards per game for an undefeated Hilltoppers team that upset Vanderbilt 14-12 on the road in their season-opener.
”We respect their offense and their defense,” Indiana senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. “They’re a very good team, but every single week we need to play at a high level and execute.”
The Hoosiers boast the best-executing offense in the Big Ten, as their 10-for-10 success rate in the redzone ranks first in the conference. But the offense also sputtered often and uncharacteristically for most of the game.
Thanks to Cook’s pick-six toward the end of the Florida International game, the Hoosiers were able to hold on for the win. Wilson said plays like that are a sign of growth for Indiana’s young secondary.
”Coach Shelby (and I) were just laughing about it,” Wilson said. “I said before the game, 'You have got some young corners that are going to be tested. One of those guys is going to get beat. Don't snap on him. Just know it's going to happen.' He needs to learn, hey, calm down. That's part of growing up.”
Indiana’s defense and offense have progressed quickly through the first two weeks of the season, and that progress will be tested again this Saturday. And what better way to measure that progress than facing a high-scoring team that made a bowl game last season.
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”Very, very good football team and a great challenge for our guys,” Wilson said. “We need to have our best week, keep moving forward. We have a lot to build on and a lot of things we can improve on.”