Imagine college football as a video game, and imagine that Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has set the game's difficulty level to "beginner" for the first three games of the Hoosiers' season. That might be the easiest explanation for how Coleman has laid utter waste to opposing defenses so far in 2014.
Coleman's early season stats aren't so much eye-opening as they are downright alarming: three games, 66 carries, 576 rushing yards, an 8.6-yard average and six touchdowns. Coleman also has seven receptions for 95 yards.
Coleman, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior, is tied for the Big Ten lead in touchdowns and leads the conference in rushing per game by a margin of 33 yards.
"His size matched up with his speed, that's what makes him different. It's usually the smaller guys that are faster. He's lightning fast, and he's still a big back. He's not going to be easy to tackle. You have to run through him." linebacker L.A. Goree said. "That's what makes him different: his power-to-speed ratio."
Said cornerback Jeremiah Johnson: "He finishes his runs. If you want to hit him, he's going to give you something."
Maryland's defense allowed 370 rushing yards to Syracuse last weekend. Against Coleman and fellow Hoosier backs D'Angelo Roberts (4.9 yards per rush) and Devine Redding (4.4), stopping the run won't get any easier on Saturday.
"They play three guys, but [Coleman's] very good. He can catch the ball and he runs the ball very well," Randy Edsall said."He's a very good player. If you look at the stats that he has, they speak for themselves."
Johnson said Maryland was stressing execution in tackling to prepare for Coleman and the entire Indiana offense.
"We have to do a better job of tackling in general, not just on run plays," he said. "There's a couple plays last week where it may have been a three- or four-yard gain had we made the first tackle, and it turns into a 12-yard gain. You can't have that if you want to be a good defense."
Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart also emphasized fundamentals as a key part of the defense's preparation.
"I'd like for us just to stay in our gap, have good gap integrity and tackle the guy with the ball," Stewart said. "That's what we're practicing, and that's the goal."
The Hoosiers start three seniors and two juniors on the offensive line, giving Indiana's backs a veteran group to run behind. By nearly all accounts, the unit has performed well to start the season. Aside from the Hoosiers' obvious run-blocking exploits, the line has surrendered only four sacks in three games.
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been sturdy across the board, albeit not statistically prolific. He averages 237 passing yards per game and has only been intercepted once, completing 65 percent of his passes and two touchdowns. His top target is a 5-foot-7 speedster, Shane Wynn, who would seem to be a natural match-up for Maryland cornerback Will Likely. Wynn has 18 catches for 207 yards through three starts.
Goree said Maryland was used to facing open-field speed like Wynn's, regarded more as a part of the identity of the Terps' old conference than the Big Ten they'll be debuting in on Saturday.
"Coming from the ACC, I think we're very skilled at the defensive back position," Goree said. "He's a good receiver. He's quick as lightning, whatever you want to say. We're preparing ourselves for that."
Coleman and Wynn aren't the only fast elements of the Indiana offense. The Hoosiers tend to rush to the line and snap the ball quickly, much like the Terps saw at home two weeks ago against West Virginia, Stewart said.
"This offense is a tempo offense. I think they've done a good job of running it," he said. "They're more run-oriented than what we've seen in the past, and that's because they have pretty good runners."
When the Terps meet the Hoosiers, Stewart's unit will be without at least one key starter. Defensive end Quinton Jefferson is out for the season, shifting lineman Keith Bowers from a nose tackle rotation with Darius Kilgo into Jefferson's spot on the edge. Freshman David Shaw will now back up Kilgo at the nose. Linebacker Matt Robinson missed the Syracuse game, and his status for Indiana is unclear.
Kilgo and Bowers previously had the luxury of splitting snaps to stay fresh. Now, they'll both shoulder more of a load as the primary starters at defensive end and tackle.
"It's not something that I'm not used to," Kilgo said. "I've played nose tackle for the last couple years here, so it's just something that we're going to have to adjust to."
With scattered injuries along the line and linebacking groups, Maryland has needed to rely on reserves in the defensive front seven so far. That will not change in Bloomington.
"All we can do is move forward and expect the guys to come in and play just as well as the starters. We make the adjustments as needed, but at the end of the day," Kilgo said, "we need all 11 guys on the field to know their assignments and just play football."