BLOOMINGTON – The shared journey is over. Indiana’s quarterback role belongs to one man, Nate Sudfeld.
Even as Sudfeld racked up impressive numbers last fall – fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game – he continuously peered in the rearview mirror. Now, he’s focused on the vast stretch of open space ahead.
Sudfeld can embrace the pressures that come with being a starting quarterback, or retreat as others have done in the past.
“He’s had a very good camp,” head coach Kevin Wilson said. “The way we do things, it sets him up with a good chance to have a solid year.”
Sudfeld, a junior from Modesto, California, emerged from summer workouts as the leader of the offense. He’s become more vocal and spends hours studying opposing defenses and his own skills. What Wilson covets is for Sudfeld to emulate former Wilson-coached, Oklahoma Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford.
“In his time, (Sudfeld’s) done well, but not as good as we need,” Wilson said. “We need Nate to be a better player. He’s got to get the ball in the end zone. That’s his job.”
Time and effort existed last season, but Sudfeld found it difficult to take charge with fellow quarterback Tre Roberson in the fold. Following Roberson’s surprising transfer in June, there was nothing left to hold back the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Sudfeld.
“I’m excited. We have a great foundation set,” said Sudfeld, who starts career game No. 9 Saturday against Indiana State. His offensive line is the most experienced in the Big Ten, with 130 career starts.
“I think I’m reading defenses well right now, I just have to be 100 percent consistent on my throws," Sudfeld added. "Sometimes the ball sails on me. I have to iron that out and get the arm fresh so I can make every throw on the field.”
Wilson is both stern and optimistic with his signal caller. In the same breath, he says Sudfeld needs to play at a higher level and adds that he could be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Indiana’s coaches have harped on Sudfeld, who many believe is an NFL talent, to bring the same intensity each practice.
With the starting job secured, complacency could become the Hoosiers’ arch nemesis. But Nick Stoner doesn’t foresee any lack of want in Sudfeld.
“He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life, whether it’s ping pong or Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64,” said Stoner, a senior wide receiver. “That makes you want to be perfect in everything. Nate’s going to put us in the best situation and give it everything he’s got. There’s definitely potential for him to have a breakout year.”
Some would point to 2013 as Sudfeld’s breakout performance. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,523 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and Sudfeld ranked in the top four in numerous conference passing categories.
He’s already seventh all-time in career touchdown passes at Indiana. But the Hoosiers are short on wins, which is the ultimate indicator of a quarterback’s ability, even if the defense allows 38 points per game.
Sudfeld is predicted to have an immensely improved defense behind him this season and a horde of playmakers on offense, highlighted by wide receiver Shayne Wynn and running back Tevin Coleman. Much of the depth at wideout is youth, where as many as three freshmen could play.
At quarterback for Indiana, it’s an experienced junior at the helm, thankful for the competitions he endured in recent seasons but still not taking his status for granted.
“The mindset isn’t different,” Sudfeld said. “The only way it’s different is I try to be more vocal, be more of a leader. Not just by example but speaking my mind a little bit, helping the guys along. I treat it like I’m competing against myself and being the best Nate I can be.
“I’m ready to do the work.”