COLUMBIA, Mo. • Tevin Coleman rarely is mentioned as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten Conference, much less the entire country. But through two games the junior from Indiana averages a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 218.5 yards per game. That’s more than all but 38 of the 128 FBS teams have averaged this season.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior brings a streak of impressive outings into Saturday’s game at No. 18 Missouri (3-0). Going back to last season, Coleman has four straight 100-yard games. Since the start of the 2013 season, he’s averaged 126.8 yards per game, second-best nationally, and scored 17 rushing touchdowns, fourth-best. Not bad considering he missed the final three games of last season because of an ankle injury.
Had he stayed healthy, Indiana, 5-7 last year, still probably wouldn’t have salvaged a .500 season. Big Ten powerhouses Wisconsin and Ohio State outscored the Hoosiers 93-17 in two of the games Coleman missed. But with a full season of production on his résumé, he might carry a higher profile into Saturday’s game. The Hoosiers (1-1) come limping in as two-touchdown underdogs after losing 45-42 last weekend at Bowling Green.
“It’s hard to get recognized as a running back here at Indiana,” Coleman said in a phone interview. “Maybe if I were somewhere else I’d probably be noticed because it’s a bigger school and they win much more. I just have to keep working and we have to keep working hard and we have to win more games and maybe I’ll be noticed.”
Missouri’s coaches know all about Coleman, who ran for only 54 yards in 15 carries against the Tigers last year in Bloomington, Ind. Mizzou’s staff has since watched Coleman rip off games of 108, 215, 247 and 190 yards.
Here’s the catch: Georgia’s Todd Gurley widely is considered one of the nation’s elite backs because his 329 yards and 9.4 yard-per-carry average came against two strong power conference programs, Clemson and South Carolina. Coleman ran for 437 yards and averaged 9.3 per carry against Indiana State and Bowling Green.
He expects another big day against Missouri.
“We’ll be able to get a lot of good runs on them because they’ve got their safeties and corners and backers playing spread and have them dropping back a lot,” Coleman said. “It’ll be good running on them.”
“He’s phenomenal,” Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said of Coleman. “He’s got great quickness. He’s got a first step, great burst. He’s got really good hands coming out of the backfield. He’s a really powerful guy.”
Coleman grew up in Tinley Park, Ill., a suburb south of Chicago, and rooted for Illinois most of his life. He considered going there to follow his cousin, former Illini defensive end Will Smith, but Illinois underwent a coaching change during Coleman’s senior year of high school. He fielded offers from most Big Ten programs but liked the chance to play early in Kevin Wilson’s no-huddle spread attack at Indiana.
The Hoosiers threw the ball more than any Big Ten team the last two seasons — in 2012, IU ranked sixth nationally in pass attempts per game (44.8). But with the departure of star receiver Cody Latimer, a second-round NFL pick by Denver this year, Wilson has leaned on Coleman through two weeks.
“We don’t have the big tall receivers we had last year,” Coleman said. “We knew we were going to run the ball more.”
Unless the Hoosiers fix a defense that hasn’t improved under first-year coordinator Brian Knorr, Wilson might be forced to throw more this fall against Big Ten foes. If not, he’s got a running back hungry to prove he’s the league’s best.
“We need more guys to play like him,” Wilson said. “We need his teammates to play better and block better. He’s got a long way to go to have a great season, but I’m not surprised. He played that way a year ago.”