Damarlo Belcher and Duwyce Wilson were expected to form one of the Big Ten’s best receiving tandems this year.
Now, Indiana will be without Belcher and Wilson for the final three games of an ugly season.
Coach Kevin Wilson confirmed Tuesday that Wilson will miss the rest of his junior year with a knee injury. Belcher, a senior, was kicked off the team Monday for violating team rules.
Indiana is at Ohio State this Saturday, then travels to face Michigan State on Nov. 19. The Hoosiers close the season at home against rival Purdue.
”It’s going to be tough, but there will be other alternatives and they’ve got to step in and play,” co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith said Tuesday.
Kevin Wilson said Duwyce Wilson, who is not related to the coach, is expected to have surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament and would need four or more months to recover. The prognosis is characteristic of a torn ACL though the school would not confirm the nature of the injury due to federal privacy rules.
The injuries are just one part of a dreadful season in Bloomington.
Indiana (1-8, 0-5) has lost six straight and allowed 204 points, or 51 per game, over the last four weeks. The Hoosiers’ lone victory came against South Carolina State on Sept. 17.
In Saturday’s 59-38 loss to Northwestern, the Hoosiers started seven freshmen on defense – the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation – and allowed 555 yards in the first three quarters.
But the most alarming trend has been the steady exodus of upperclassmen.
Belcher became the 10th scholarship player to leave the program since Wilson was hired Dec. 7.
At one point, after turning down the chance to enter the NFL draft, Belcher looked as if he would be one of the cornerstones of Wilson’s high-powered offense.
Instead, nothing went right.
A knee injury kept Belcher out of two games and sometimes prevented him from practicing at full speed, too. He also was suspended for Saturday’s game because of a rule violation. He finishes with 25 receptions for 286 yards receiving, leaving him sixth on the school’s career chart for yards receiving (2,225) and second in career receptions with 189. Former NFL draft pick James Hardy had 191.
Kevin Wilson said Tuesday the seniors helped determine the team rules and each player signed a paper promising to abide by the stipulations. Wilson did not elaborate on what provisions Belcher violated, calling the situation ”unfortunate” even as he described Belcher as a good player and a ”good kid.”
”Typically, we try to work through situations whether it be a class issue or whatever,” Wilson said. ”So it was a little bit through that time. If it was a major, major action, that would be an expulsion from the school.”
Players were told of Belcher’s dismissal during Monday’s regular team meeting.
”It’s pretty sad,” senior linebacker Leon Beckum said. ”We’ve invested a lot of time in it, just like he did, and it’s sad he had to go out that way.”
But the message resonated clearly throughout the Hoosiers’ locker room.
”Coach means business when he says you’ll either be with this team or not,” running back Stephen Houston said.
Things don’t seem to be getting any better, either.
Indiana last won at Ohio State (5-3, 2-2) in 1987. This week’s depth chart has six true freshmen or redshirt freshmen listed as starters, and true freshman Tre Roberson is expected to make his third straight start at quarterback.
The No. 1 priority is finding a solution on defense, which allowed Northwestern to score on nine of its first 10 possessions.
”I go home, I don’t sleep, I’m not used to it and I don’t want to get used to it,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler said. ”It’s the most frustrating thing I’ve ever been a part of. We’re not just saying `Play all these freshmen,’ these are our best guys right now.”
Part of the explanation is injuries.
Safeties Chris Adkins and Jarrell Drane have missed five games, and Beckum and safety Donnell Jones each have missed six. Factor in those who have left the team, and now the loss of their two best receivers, and the Hoosiers find themselves in the toughest spot of all.
”I feel like ever since the Illinois game, it’s gone downhill and it’s extremely frustrating,” Ekeler said. ”I promise you it’s not for lack of effort. If you look back at the beginning of the year, we’ve got eight new guys on the field and our communication is not near what it needs to be. It’s not easy.”