BY JIMMY CAVANAUGH
D’Angelo Roberts was happy to help.
Roberts, a true freshman, was the featured back as Wilson’s Indiana Hoosiers (1-2) overcame sloppy play (a team record 19 penalties and 156 yards) and poor defense (377 yards allowed, 203 above their opponent’s average) to defeat the South Carolina State Bulldogs (1-2, 1-0) by a final score of 38-21.
“As hard as we’ve been working and the kids have been working, getting a Saturday reward was something that we needed,” Wilson said after the game. “And hopefully it will continue.”
The Saturday reward Wilson referred to wasn’t a foregone conclusion until late in the fourth quarter, when sophomore quarterback Ed Wright-Baker hooked up with sophomore wideout Kofi Hughes on a bubble screen for a 40-yard touchdown that provided the final margin. Before that point, the Bulldogs definitely gave Indiana more than they wanted to handle.
The Hoosiers started fast on offense, scoring on four of their first five drives. A 30-yard strike from Wright-Baker to sophomore wide receiver Duwyce Wilson started the fun, and was followed on the next drive by sophomore tailback Stephen Houston’s touchdown run from two yards out.
The ensuing South Carolina State drive exploited the Indiana defense for the first (but not last) time as quarterback Derrick Wiley took advantage of an all-out IU blitz as he hit receiver Tyler McDonald on a screen pass that McDonald took 69 yards to the house for the Bulldogs’ first touchdown.
From that point forward, Indiana remained in an uneasy control of the game as they scored twice more – expanding their lead to 24-7 but never taking full command. An ugly pair of offensive series early in the second half (a fumble by Wright-Baker and a near interception by Kiel) followed by a five-yard touchdown pass from Wiley to Caleb Davis brought the score to 24-14, and appeared to put the result in doubt.
Roberts though, was having none of it.
Roberts, who had previously carried twice for no gain, went bonkers in the third quarter – carrying 14 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. He stopped to catch his breath a few times but never appeared winded, becoming the first IU true freshman since BenJarvis Green-Ellis to break the 100-yard barrier.
“The line did pretty dang-gone good…” he said during his postgame availability. “I really got comfortable during that 3rd quarter and we did a good job coming together.”
Wilson was complimentary of Roberts after the game.
“He has energy, he’s a young guy,” Wilson said. “He has glitches… but he has fire, passion and is a tough dude.” He continued, “He did a good job (of) running behind his pads, ran through some trash and got our offense on schedule.”
Duwyce Wilson also performed well for the second straight game, catching six balls for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The defensive performance though, wasn’t as pretty.
“We played well in the 1st and 3rd quarters,” said senior defensive captain Jeff Thomas. “We let off the gas a little though and we can’t do that. We’ve got to limit big plays and clean up on defense.”
Jarrell Drane, the senior safety was a bit more optimistic.
“They just got a couple of big screens and hit some out routes,” he said. “We’ve just got to clean that up and have better awareness. We can do that.”
The Hoosier defense likely falls somewhere between Drane’s positive assessment and what appeared to be a disappointing performance to a South Carolina State offense that had struggled mightily so far this season. If it wants to be successful, Indiana’s defense cannot make tonight’s performance a habit.
“Life and our game is about responding,” Wilson said during his postgame press conference. “What do you do when it’s going good and what do you do when it’s going bad?”
Indiana’s next chance to respond comes next Saturday, as they travel to Denton to take on the North Texas Mean Green (0-3).