Elite running back helps Hoosiers put season back on track

LEE BARFKNECHT

BIG TEN FOOTBALL


Surely we all know who the national rushing leader is after the first month of the college football season. It has to be Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, a Heisman Trophy candidate who ran for 253 yards last week against Bowling Green.

Wrong.

Well, at least we're sure the national leader in all-purpose yards is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, a Heisman candidate who last week moved to No. 1 past Johnny Rodgers on the Huskers' all-time yardage list.

Wrong again.

The right answer in both cases is Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman.

If you responded, "Who?" you aren't alone.

The 6-foot-l, 210-pound junior

from suburban Chicago discussed his relative anonymity with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ahead of last week's game at No. 18 Missouri.

"It's hard to get recognized as a running back at Indiana," Coleman told the paper. "Maybe if I were somewhere else, I'd probably be noticed because it's a bigger school and they win much more."

First, let's thank Coleman for an honest answer. He wasn't being selfish. Getting any limelight playing Indiana football is difficult. The school has made just one bowl appearance since 1993.

But it could become easier with IU's 31-27 upset of Missouri, the Hoosiers' first road win over a team ranked that high in 27 years.

Coleman, despite missing part of the game because of dehydration, ran 19 times for 132 yards and caught three passes for 57 yards. His 44-yard catch and run on a screen pass was the key play on Indiana's game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes.

For the season, Coleman averages 189.7 yards rushing and 221.3 all-purpose yards. For comparison, Abdullah's numbers are 156.3 and 212.0, while Gordon's are 143.7 and 152.7.

Give Indiana coach Kevin Wilson credit for knowing what to do with an elite running back. He was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for eight seasons, and his time included tutoring Adrian Peterson, a unanimous first-team All-American.

Coleman emerged big last season, but got little attention.

He ran for 958 yards — 7.3 yards per carry — and 12 touchdowns before a broken ankle sidelined him for the final three games. He still finished tied for first nationally with eight runs of 40 yards or longer.

This season, Wilson said Tuesday, practicing better has led to Coleman producing even more on game day.

"He's a very, very good player who has matured," Wilson said. "He's never been bad, but he has matured into becoming a great practice player. The way he prepares is awesome imagery for other players. It's making our entire backfield better."

Bowling Green coach Dino Babers, a few days before Coleman skewered his defense for 190 yards and three touchdowns, raved about his skill.

"Tevin Coleman is an NFL guy. He's something," Babers said. "I'm watching him on tape and I'm like, 'That guy is pretty.' He's really, really good."

Coleman's work at Missouri turned the conversation on Indiana football 180 degrees.

A loss at Bowling Green led to speculation that Wilson, in his fourth season, might have difficulty keeping his job. The upset at Missouri now has put the Hoosiers back in the hunt for a bowl bid. Wilson said countering an unexpected loss with an upset victory was "really good for the players."

"They're the guys who have been doing a lot of things right for a long time. It's very, very difficult to maintain doing that if you don't see results."

Contact the writer:

MORE ONLINE

Logon at noon Wednesday for "The Big Ten Roundup" chat with Lee Barfknecht to get your Big Ten questions answered. Omaha.com/bigred

Replay Bo Pelini's segment from Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference. Omaha.com/bigred

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.