The Gophers know very well about the lengthy time it takes to build a football program.
Transformation doesn’t happen overnight.
But with Indiana coach Kevin Wilson — like Jerry Kill — rooted in his third season with his current squad, the Hoosiers are, like the Gophers, trying to take the next step.
In the last two seasons, Indiana (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) has gone from zero conference wins in 2011 to two in 2012. This year, with a single Big Ten victory, the Hoosiers hope to find tangible improvement in the final five weeks — starting with Saturday’s game against the Gophers — and earn the program’s first bowl berth since 2007.
“We’re definitely getting better day by day, little by little,” Indiana wide receiver Kofi Hughes said. “But going into year three, now it’s time to put everything together. It’s time to get things going.”
The stats assert that things are going just fine for the Hoosiers when it comes to the offense, operating the top passing attack in the conference. Indiana is second in the Big Ten in total yards, averaging 514. And the Hoosiers have converted the big gains and long drives — thriving both with the pass and the run — into an average of 42.4 points per game, tied with Michigan for second in the conference.
“They’re as good of an offense as we’ll face this year,” Gophers safety Brock Vereen said. “They’re fast-paced, they put their guys in space, they force you to make tackles. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
Indiana’s problem? The Hoosiers are giving up almost all of that advantage on defense. They are dead last in total defense, giving up 498.1 yards and 37.1 points per game. In the Big Ten, the Hoosiers have allowed 544.7 yards per game — with a near-record 751 coming from Michigan — while averaging 469.7 yards, fourth best.
After winning its conference opener against Penn State, exorcising the demons from 16 losses in previous seasons against the Nittany Lions, Indiana has dropped its last two, at Michigan State and at Michigan. The Wolverines scored 63 points. Even before those losses, the Hoosiers knew better than to look at the Penn State win as a turning point. The road to a turnaround is long, and overactive emotions can be damaging.
“Something that this program seems to have a problem with is letting go after a win,” Hughes said. “We didn’t want to make that game bigger than it was.”
The Gophers are in a similar spot with Kill in his third year, but Minnesota was able to get to a bowl game last year, and has already achieved bowl eligibility this year. The Gophers also have more past success to draw upon.
“Coach Kill’s staff has been together for longer. We kind of put ours together, so [the Gophers coaches] have a little more continuity,” Wilson said. “I think they’re probably a little further along with … where they have been, where they’re going.”
Last week’s bye for Indiana, following two losses, couldn’t come at a better time, Hughes said.
“It’s almost like your girlfriend,” Hughes said. “You do something every single day, it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to miss it. And so I think getting to go home for the weekend — like a lot of guys did — and finally coming back … it gives you a chance to kind of miss football, get your hunger back.”