FORT WAYNE — The 2011 Indiana football team was young.
Just how young?
The Hoosiers played 16 true freshmen, tied for the third most in the country. Sixteen redshirt freshmen also saw playing time. The 32 total freshmen were the highest total in the nation.
Indiana started 46 players in 2011: Eleven true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen and 10 sophomores made starts.
Their growth will be vital to the team’s goals of a better season.
“They have to get bigger, stronger, learn their jobs better and play better,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said during a stop in Fort Wayne. “It’s young guys improving.”
The Hoosiers went 1-11 in 2011, 0-8 in the Big Ten. The only victory came in the third game of the season against South Carolina State. IU lost its final nine games.
“Everyone is working to get better,” Wilson said. “Just because you played as a young guy when you’re a program that is starting and you don’t have a good season, there is a lot of work to do across the board.
“Every position offense, defense, kicking. Every coach. And it’s constant improvement.”
A lot of players gained experience throughout the season, which could help in 2012.
Underclassmen accounted for 58.7 percent of Indiana’s starters last season (23.9 percent true freshmen, 37 percent freshmen).
Underclassmen scored all of IU’s rushing touchdowns (18). Underclassmen produced almost all of the team’s total yards (99.8 percent), points (97.7 percent) and receiving touchdowns (90 percent).
Running back Stephen Houston rushed for 802 yards (5.3 average) and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He had 711 yards and seven scores in Big Ten games, the most for a Hoosier since 2003 when BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 784 yards.
Tre Roberson became the first true freshman quarterback in Indiana history to start a game when the Hoosiers faced Iowa on Oct. 22.
Overall, Roberson appeared in nine games. He was 81 of 142 (57 percent) with 937 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 426 yards on 109 carries with two scores.
Defensively, safety Mark Murphy finished second on the team in tackles (76) as a freshman.
Wilson is excited to see the steps the team makes in his second year as coach.
“We’ve gotten to the point, everyone understands everyone’s expectations, what we want,” Wilson said. “I think we have a bunch of guys that are in and on board and doing things right.”
Wilson said he saw “a lot of positives” during the spring.
“It’s a better vibe, a better work ethic, we’re getting tougher, we’re getting bigger, stronger, we’re learning our system better,” Wilson said. “I think we’re coaching better.
“It’s all talk until you light that scoreboard up and win games.”