BLOOMINGTON, IND. (AP) - Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is on cleanup duty.
He expects his team to block better, protect better, play with better fundamentals and make fewer mistakes on defense. And he needs it fixed now with No. 19 Illinois coming to town.
“We have way too many mental errors, way too many, way too many loafs, guys not playing as hard as they can play,” the blunt-talking coach said while critiquing his team. “My way of fixing things is we continue to practice and practice hard. Keep practicing in a lethargic way, you’re going to play in a lethargic way.”
Wilson is doing anything he can to get it right.
He’s changed the lineup, created open competition for jobs, asked upperclassmen to provide more leadership, played 16 true freshmen and watched six players already leave the program since the season began.
It hasn’t worked yet. The Hoosiers are still struggling to score touchdowns and stop opponents.
Wilson also understands this is more than a five-week project and that he can’t change the message midway through the season, especially given the upcoming gauntlet.
The trek begins Saturday when the Illini (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) visit Bloomington. Then Indiana (1-4, 0-1) heads to No. 4 Wisconsin, followed by a trip to Iowa. After that, there is Northwestern, back-to-back trips to Ohio State and Michigan State before closing against archrival Purdue.
So there’s no time to waste.
Illinois is off to its best start since the 1951 team started 7-0 and will try to stay in the group of 15 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“In my opinion, they’re well-tested, they’re playing good games and they deserve all the accolades they’re getting and that’s not blowing smoke,” Wilson said of Illinois. “Game 2 in the Big Ten will be a big challenge for us.”
On paper, it looks like a mismatch.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Illinois’ last three wins have come by three or fewer points, the first time that’s happened in school history, and Saturday marks the first time Illinois hits the road this season. The Illini are just 2-5 in their last seven trips to Indiana.
Coach Ron Zook called the Illini’s practices Monday and Tuesday their best of the season.