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With Indiana’s Season on the Brink, Kevin Wilson Needs to Prove His Mettle

Photo Credit: AJ Mast/Icon Sportswire

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – There have been more than a few low points in Kevin Wilson’s tenure at Indiana thus far. In fact, his tenure has been defined by them.

But on Saturday in Piscataway, Wilson very well may have hit rock bottom. And with his reeling Hoosiers now having suffered three straight losses—two of them in heartbreaking fashion—the big questions in Bloomington are obvious.

First, can this once-promising season possibly be saved?

And second, was Saturday’s stinging defeat the beginning of the end for Wilson?

It seems like a very long time ago indeed that we were talking about this being a breakthrough season for the long-suffering Hoosiers. After four years of struggle to get the team over that bowl-eligibility hump, Wilson saw his Hoosiers jump out to a surprising 4-0 start in 2015 that included a tough road win at Wake Forest—a win that set up a huge Week 5 matchup, at home, against the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes.

It was pegged as perhaps the single biggest game in recent Indiana football history, and in truth, the Hoosiers went out there and seized the opportunity before them. They came out playing hard in the first half, battled back when all seemed lost in the second, and ultimately came up just one play short of pulling off what would have been a spectacular upset.

The last-second defeat stung, yes, but the greater cost came in the talent that was lost that day—specifically, tailback Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

Without those two in the lineup, the Hoosiers hit the road to take on a very beatable Penn State team—and ultimately laid an egg. The 29-7 loss was inexcusable even taking into account the fact that neither Howard or Sudfeld could play. Simply put, the Hoosiers didn’t play anywhere near to their potential—and Wilson didn’t coach well, either.

For three quarters last week, though, it seemed that both team and coach had put the back-to-back disappointments behind him. With Sudfeld back under center, the Hoosier offense came back to life and Indiana at one point held a 52-27 lead late in the fourth quarter. A huge win—one that would get them within just one victory of a bowl bid—seemed all but assured.

And then?

Well, and then Indiana reverted back to being Indiana. The Hoosiers’ eternal Achilles Heel—an awful defense—once again was their undoing, and Rutgers rattled off 31 unanswered points to steal it, 55-52. It was, quite simply, a crushing defeat—one that will likely linger in the minds of this team for weeks to come.

That is, unless Wilson can somehow get them to mentally overcome it. And that is precisely what he needs to do not just to save this season, but to save his job.

27 September 2014: Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson as the Indiana Hoosiers played Maryland in a college football game in Bloomington, IN.

27 September 2014: Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson as the Indiana Hoosiers played Maryland in a college football game in Bloomington, IN.

I have openly advocated for Wilson in years past, and even entering this season I wrote that Indiana’s administration ought to stick with the coach even if the Hoosiers didn’t become bowl eligible this year. In large part, that’s because I am utterly convinced the only way Indiana is ever going to take a step forward is with consistency at the head coaching position. Changing the regime every few years hasn’t worked in the past, and isn’t likely to work in the future, either.

That collapse at Rutgers, though, has this writer wondering—wondering not just about Wilson’s game-day decision-making, but also about long-term prospects with this still-struggling program. For the first time, I am questioning his abilities as a head coach.

Yes, with five games to go in this 2015 college football season, the Hoosiers are facing a real test.

But so is their coach.

With his team’s spirits laid low but with a bowl bid still out there for the taking, it’s time for Wilson to really prove what he’s made of as a coach, as a strategist and, yes, as a motivator, too.

Wilson’s defining moment has arrived. His future in coaching will be determined by how he responds.

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