When Indiana and Wake Forest square off Saturday in Bloomington (3:30 p.m ET, BTN), it will be a battle of unbeaten teams. And it’s not even basketball season yet.
Two schools known for their hoops have gotten off to strong starts on the gridiron in 2016. Indiana has dispatched of Florida International and Ball State by a combined score of 64-33. Wake Forest has knocked off Tulane, Duke and Delaware.
“I saw a comment from an ESPN guy that he wanted to be the first one to say Wake and Indiana were undefeated,” Hoosier head coach Kevin Wilson told reporters in Bloomington on Monday.
“Well, it’s because there ain’t a lot of people doing that because it’s hard to win games. Because it’s playing good every week, overcoming mistakes and staying hungry and staying humble. It’s human nature. It’s human beings. Our sport has the greatest number of human beings, and it’s getting all those elements to work together. So it’s a challenge, for every coach.”
Indiana has won eight straight non-conference games for the first time since 1992-95. It’s also captured its last four contests overall dating back to last season when it finished with victories against Maryland and Purdue.
It’s progress for Wilson, who took over a downtrodden program in 2011. Plenty of room remains for the climb he desires, however.
“I think our kids have bought in. I think our kids are having fun at practice, practicing hard but there’s a lot of energy, and that’s pretty good,” said Wilson, who came to Bloomington after being an Oklahoma assistant.
Indiana has produced offense during Wilson’s tenure. This season, it’s found some footing defensively under first-year coordinator Tom Allen. He had held the same position at South Florida.
The Hoosiers rank 6th among Big Ten teams in scoring defense (16.5 PPG) after allowing 31.8 a year ago, which was 12th in the conference. They’re fourth against the run (101.5 yards per game).
“I like how hard we’re playing,” Allen said. “There’s been growth in understanding our system and being able to communicate better. We still had some breakdowns in that area against Ball State, but as a collective group, that’s improving.”
Allen added that his defenders showed progress during the bye week of understanding run fits.
Wake could challenge that area of the Indiana defense. The Demon Deacons are averaging 206.7 rushing yards an outing and have scored eight touchdowns on the ground.
“It’s just kind of a tough, downhill, physical style,” Allen said.
Running back Matt Colburn leads the way for Wake with 195 rushing yards. Quarterbacks Kendall Hinton (125) and John Wolford (93) rank third and fourth, respectively, in ground gains.
“Kendall is a little bit more of a dynamic runner and you might emphasize that run skill because he’s maybe a home run but in every game,” Wilson said. “Wofford is a solid runner, and they will run him. He probably spins the ball a little bit more, so there’s a little bit more pass. So it’s the same offense. I think the emphasis goes a little from, not maybe as much zone read or triple option kind of stuff they do, with a little bit more maybe run-pass.”
Defensively, the Deacons only are allowing 12.7 points a game. Opponents are managing just 79.7 yards on the ground. Indiana ranks third among Big Ten teams in total offense (469.5 YPG) and is averaging 32 points.
“It is a very challenging game for us for a lot of reasons,” Wake coach Dave Clawson told reporters this week. “Number one, the style of offense they run, the tempo, they have some legitimate, big time offensive linemen. The guard, (Dan) Feeney, might be the best O-lineman we see all year. He’s a first-team All-American and will probably be making a quite a bit of money a year from now.”
The Hoosiers won, 31-24, at Wake last September. The rematch has elicited more interest nationally as one of these programs will remain unbeaten heading into October.
“There’s only, I think, six undefeated match-ups this week in Power Five,” Wilson said. “And the reason being is a lot of Power Five teams aren’t taking care of winning games you’re supposed to win.”