October 18, 2006

Lewis grows up quickly for Hoosiers

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Kellen Lewis' first season on the field at Indiana has had enough unseen elements and plot twists to rival an episode of Lost.

The redshirt freshman was third on the depth chart at the beginning of the year. Firmly entrenched at No. 1 was Blake Powers, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior who was fresh off a superb season that included a school-record 22 touchdown passes. Senior Graeme McFarland was the backup.

Then strange things began to happen. Powers suffered an ankle injury in the opener that put him out for the next two games. McFarland started the second game, against Ball State, then he injured his hand in the first quarter.

Enter Lewis and hold that thought, because we're going to jump ahead. We'll try not to lose you.

On Saturday against then-No. 15 Iowa, Lewis led the Hoosiers to their first victory over a top-15 team in 20-plus years. He completed 19-of-25 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown. Indiana rallied to shock the Hawkeyes 31-28.

The performance makes Lewis the Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week. The Rivals.com National Coordinator of the Week is Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp for his work against Florida.

"I think the game kind of slowed down for me a little bit," Lewis told Rivals.com. "I watched more film than I had ever watched, and I kind of felt like I knew more about (Iowa's) coverages."

Flash back. Lewis probably never should have ended up at Indiana. He played his high school football in the talent hotbed of Jacksonville, Fla., and the Florida Gators were recruiting him as an athlete - as were a handful of other programs in the Southeast.

But Lewis wanted to play quarterback. He remained steadfast, but no Division I-A offers were forthcoming for a 6-1, 175-pound, run-first QB.

Just before Lewis was going to spend a year in prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia to prove his mettle under center, the Hoosiers called.

Come play quarterback, they said. You can redshirt and we'll see where it goes from there.

But this? Halfway through his first season and already he has four starts and has led three fourth-quarter comebacks? No, it wasn't supposed to happen this fast.

"I knew that I'd play a little bit this season because me and coach (Terry Hoeppner) had talked in the offseason," Lewis said. "He said there were certain things you can do that Blake doesn't do. You can run some option. He's more a drop-back guy, so I would run certain plays."

So he was supposed to be IU's Tim Tebow, another freshman QB coincidentally from the Jacksonville area. Now he's their Chris Leak, Tebow and Powers all rolled into one.

Powers started against Connecticut when he returned to full strength, but the Hoosiers managed only seven points in a stinging home loss.

Lewis got the starting nod for the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, and it has been his job since. He has responded by getting the Hoosiers off to a 2-1 start with victories over Illinois and Iowa.

"When I came in in the Ball State game I played wild," Lewis said. "I played like I was in high school. That didn't work the next two weeks, so I got some film work in and worked on the mental part of the game."

A lot of things changed after the Ball State game. Hoeppner underwent brain surgery - his second in less than a year - to remove a tumor. He missed a pair of games, and the Hoosiers did not respond well.

They promptly went out and lost to Division I-AA Southern Illinois, and followed that with the UConn loss.

"That was a lack of focus against SIU," Lewis said. "Just like we took the underdog approach and played as hard as we could against Iowa, we were Goliath against SIU and they played like they had nothing to lose."

Winning and losing became less substantive while Hoeppner was sidelined. But since his return he has made his team believe it can win.

"He had that surgery and he came back in a matter of weeks," Lewis said. "This is just football. That was life and death. We figured if he could come back from brain surgery in two weeks, coming out and playing Iowa can't be that tough. He has it way worse than any one of us.

"Now that he's back, we just have more confidence. Anytime you're missing your head coach, it feels like chaos. But when the head of the team is back in his place it gives everyone a boost."

Who knows what Lewis and Hoeppner can accomplish together?

Other freshmen considered for Rivals.com's top honor this week were:

Safety Austin Thomas and linebacker Josh Bailey of Indiana. Lewis had a couple of freshman teammates come through with big games as well. Thomas had a career-high 11 tackles, and Bailey had three tackles for loss among his six tackles.

Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill, who bowled through Minnesota for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 25 carries as the Badgers cruised 48-12.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who set a school record with six TD passes in a 63-31 rout of Baylor. He finished 21 of 32 for 275 yards with one interception.

Muschamp is the first repeat winner of Coordinator of the Week honors. His defense shut out Florida in the second half and harassed Gators QB Chris Leak to no end.

Leak was held to 9 of 17 passing for only 108 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked three times, all in the second half. The Tigers also had two fumble recoveries and held the Gators to 1-for-7 on third-down conversions.

"We went out and just executed better in the second half, and got a little better feel for the motions and shifts and the adjustments that needed to be made," Muschamp told Rivals.com. "We did some little things here and there, but it was nothing major."

One major difference apparently was a fiery halftime speech from head coach Tommy Tuberville to Muschamp's unit. Dissatisfied at the break, he lit into the defense at halftime and challenged its members to play with more fire and desire in the final 30 minutes.

Muschamp didn't know what the head coach was planning, but he didn't have a problem with it.

"I thought it was great," Muschamp said. "I thought that we needed a kick in the butt from somebody other than me, and Coach Tubs did an outstanding job."

Auburn also didn't see much of the Florida backup QB Tim Tebow, the true freshman "changeup" from Urban Meyer. Tebow had accounted for all three of Florida's touchdowns against LSU and figured to be utilized more against Auburn.

Instead, Tebow carried only three times for 18 yards and did not attempt a pass.

"I thought we would see more of him, especially after his first play of the game when he ran for a 16-yard touchdown," Muschamp said. "I think they felt like they needed to throw the ball more in the second half because we played the run much better."

Other coordinators considered for Rivals.com's top honor this week were:

Ron English, defensive coordinator, Michigan. His unit held a Joe Paterno team to negative rushing yards, the first time that has happened. The Wolverines limited Penn State's Tony Hunt to 33 yards on 13 carries; Hunt entered with four consecutive 100-yard games. Michigan won 17-10.

Scott Shafer, defensive coordinator, Western Michigan. The Broncos held Garrett Wolfe 198 yards below his per-game rushing average. Wolfe had only 25 yards on 18 carries against the Broncos, who beat Northern Illinois 16-14.

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