Kickoff: Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m., tonight
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BLOOMINGTON -- Kevin Wilson isn't a play-it-safe coach. It's not in his nature. It's not the way he wants to lead Indiana to college football's bowl promised land.
Wilson passes up sure field goals for fourth-down shots. He on-side kicks when situations suggest kickoffs.
What's going on?
“It's not a gamble as much as this is what you think is going to work and your players need to execute,” he says. “And you know what? Sometimes they don't. And it's nothing against them when they don't.”
What does this mean for tonight's game against Missouri?
Let's take a look.
IU is 3-for-8 on fourth-down conversions. It is 0-for-3 on on-side attempts.
Last Saturday against Bowling Green, the Hoosiers twice went for it on fourth down at the Falcons' 1-yard line even though they had Mitch Ewald, the most accurate kicker in school history.
The previous week against Navy, they were 1-for-2 on fourth-down conversions. One led to an IU touchdown. The other led to a Navy TD.
Now comes Missouri, which is 2-0 behind a potent offense (48.0 point average) and aggressive defense (18.5 points allowed). It's coming off a bye week, which means it's had two weeks to prepare. Given Indiana averages 50.0 points and allows 28.7 points, a shootout seems likely.
In other words, conservative play ain't gonna work.
So what goes into Wilson's take-a-shot mentality? Risk-reward is considered. Confidence shouldn't be confused with foolhardiness. There is a strong belief that the players can get it done. It's part of the transformational approach Wilson has taken with a program pushing to break out of a losing mentality.
“You're sitting there look at, 'Here's where it is. Here's what you do, go do it,'” Wilson says. “It's not being foolish. For us to do well, we've got to be as smart as we are aggressive. We can't sit, wait and hope.
“That's what Tiger Woods does. He's not hoping the other guy misses the putt. He's going to make his.
“That on-side kick, we're going to go for it. Sometimes there's a lip out, but there are as many lip ins and lip outs. There are as many good bounces as bad bounces.
“We're not going to be stupid. We're going to be aggressive in what we do, there's also a calculation.”
Missouri, in its second year in the SEC after moving from the Big 12, continues IU's scheduling upgrade. The SEC has emerged as the nation's top football conference in the last decade. It has won seven straight national titles with Alabama (three), Florida (two), Auburn (one) and LSU (one).
The SEC reputation, Indiana running back Stephen Houston says, won't faze the Hoosiers.
“At the end of the day, we're not playing the SEC, we're playing Missouri,” he says. “It's just another opponent. We're not worried about all the hype and the clout of the SEC. If you do, that's when you lose focus and make them bigger than they are. We'll play them as another opponent. We'll be fine.”
Missouri's extra week of preparation is certain to produce a few offensive and defensive wrinkles, but nothing that goes against the Tigers' core approach.
“Missouri has its identity,” offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says. “Everybody has one or two change-ups, but they've been in their system for a while. They're very good at what they do. I don't see any wholesale changes. They'll rely on their players to understand what they want to accomplish. They're D-line gets after people. They're relentless to the ball.
“We're familiar with what they do. It's about playing hard hard, playing fast.”
The Tigers' offense is led by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin. He's thrown for 530 yards and four touchdowns. He's also rushed for 121 yards while averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
“With that mobility,” defensive coordinator Doug Mallory says, “he doesn't always scramble to run. He often scrambles to keep the play alive. There are a lot of route conversions, with receivers going short to deep. And if the route isn't open, he can tuck it and run. We can't let him get comfortable, but we have to do a great job of keeping him in the pocket.”