Hoosiers big running back comes home with bacon on game day
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Tyler Natee doesn't look like a running back. He just plays like one.
At 270 pounds, he's strong enough to run over opponents and nimble enough to bounce off of them. With his pedigree as a high school quarterback, the lefty is capable of throwing the ball. And perhaps the worst part for other Big Ten teams is this: The Indiana Hoosiers can feature the biggest back in their heavy package for another 3+ seasons.
''I think sometimes the uniqueness of what he does makes it cooler than it really is,'' coach Kevin Wilson said. ''He's a freshman, he's a young kid. He's got a chance to be a good player if he keeps working hard.''
At the moment it appears, Natee could be the next big thing - literally - in a program that already has churned out three NFL running backs in three years.
To Wilson, the only surprise is that nobody else locked up this hidden gem first.
Wilson said he found out about Natee during a recruiting trip to Texas last year after asking high school coaches about anyone they thought had been overlooked in the recruiting process. When Natee's name came up more than once, Wilson took a peek.
It was then Wilson decided he could use the ''wildcat'' quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations. But when Natee arrived on campus, the Hoosiers quickly discovered he could do other things, too.
''At practice, you can't go low on him. He's a load,'' linebacker Marcus Oliver said. ''If you go up top with him, you aren't taking him down.''
Still, it seemed the guy nicknamed ''Big Bacon'' by his college teammates would find himself buried on the depth chart behind 1,000-yard runner Devine Redding and a host of others. Early injuries didn't help Natee, who compiled 23 carries and 64 yards in Indiana's first seven games.
But with the ground game bogging down during a brutal opening conference stretch that featured three ranked teams - Michigan State, Ohio State and Nebraska - and a trip to Northwestern, Wilson tried something different last weekend against Maryland.
He still had quarterback Richard Lagow take the bulk of the snaps and occasionally sent in backup quarterback Zander Diamont to give the Hoosiers (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) another dynamic runner, just like they did against the Cornhuskers. Only this time, Wilson added a new wrinkle - letting Natee take direct snaps and employ the zone read.
It worked perfectly against Maryland .
Indiana ran for 414 yards and, for the first time in almost three years, the Hoosiers had three 100-yard rushers in the same game - Redding with 130 yards, Natee with 118 and Diamont with 111. Five different players, including Natee, scored on TD runs, believed to be a first in school history.
Naturally, the fresh face became the postgame star and this week's Big Ten freshman of the week as the Hoosiers prepare for a trip to Rutgers (2-6, 0-5).
''That's the goal, running as hard as I can taking as many people with me as I can,'' he said, laughing. ''I enjoy the ride.''
And if all goes well, Natee hopes to be a prominent piece in the Hoosiers' postseason ride.
Notes: Wilson said offensive lineman Brandon Knight is expected to be out ''a while'' after injuring his lower leg Saturday.
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