The fifth opponent in our season preview series is the Indiana Hoosiers, who we feel will be the fifth-easiest — or seventh-toughest — opponent on the schedule. We have already previewed, from easiest to not-so-easiest, Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, and Utah.
||at Bowling Green
||at Ohio State
In a similar fashion to Jerry Kill at Minnesota, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has his program headed in the right direction. In his first season after taking over from Bill Lynch in 2011, the Hoosiers managed just a single win, topping South Carolina State of the Football Championship Subdivision, 38-21. His first four losses were all within a touchdown, but the rest of the season wasn’t even close. Indiana lost its final seven games of that season by an average of 25 points.
Year two was better as the Hoosiers improved the win total by three, going 4-8, and winning two conference games, a 31-17 win at Illinois and a 24-21 win over Iowa the following week. There were still lopsided losses — 62-14 to Wisconsin, 45-22 at Penn State, and 56-35 to Purdue — but there were also near-upsets — a 52-49 loss to Ohio State, 31-27 loss to Michigan State, and a one-point heartbreaker at Navy. Progress.
Last season, Wilson’s squad managed five wins, none over FCS opponents, and three against Big Ten foes, the most notable being a 44-24 win at Penn State early in the season. The Hoosiers faltered down the stretch, losing 51-3 at Wisconsin and 41-14 at Ohio State, but the progress was evident. The offense was second only to Ohio State in the Big Ten and scored more points (28) than anyone all season against Michigan State’s vaunted defense (Nebraska also scored 28), including Ohio State.
The progress may not be as noticeable in the win column as Kill’s, but it’s there nonetheless, and Wilson has the Hoosiers knocking on the postseason once again. The program hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 1997 Insight Bowl, and the last one before that was the 1993 Independence Bowl. With 17 starters returning, including eight on that explosive offense, Wilson hopes this is the year to end that drought.
But in order to do so, he better fix the defense that surrendered a Big Ten-worst 38.8 points per game in 2013. In fact, the Hoosier defense under Wilson has finished last in the conference all three seasons. Enter Brian Knorr. The former Wake Forest defensive coordinator was brought on in place of Doug Mallory, the brother of Michigan’s safeties coach, Curt Mallory. Knorr took the Wake Forest defense from 91st in 2012 to 31st a year ago and has also had defensive success at Air Force. If he can do the same in Bloomington, Indiana should set its goals higher than simply becoming bowl eligible. But is that realistic for this fall? Let’s take a look.
||194-322 for 2,523 yds, 21 TD, 9 INT
||998 yds (7.3 avg), 12 TD
||46 rec. for 633 yds, 11 TD
||12 rec. for 226 yds, 1 TD
||14 rec. for 136 yds, 1 TD
||12 starts (24 career starts)
||9 starts (25 career starts)
||10 starts (24 career starts)
||Injured (12 career starts)
||Injured (18 career starts)
As mentioned above, offense has not been the problem for Wilson. Last year’s offense ranked 16th nationally in scoring offense (38.4 points per game), ninth in total offense (508.5 yards per game), 30th in rushing (201.8 yards per game), and 17th in passing (306.7 yards per game). Those are pretty darn good numbers for any offense, let alone one that won just five games. Consider that the eight teams that had better total offenses — Baylor, Oregon, Fresno State, Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Florida State, Ohio State, and Texas Tech — had a combined average record of 11-2 and you see that this Indiana offense is in good company.
The offense took a small blow last month when one part of the two-headed quarterback monster announced his decision to transfer to Illinois State. Tre Roberson started four games for the Hoosiers in 2013, passing for 1,128 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushing for 423 yards and five more touchdowns. He performed well against Michigan (16-of-23 for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception) and tied a 70-year-old school record with six touchdowns in the season finale against Purdue. But he wasn’t content to share time with Nate Sudfeld, and now this is Sudfeld’s team.
Coleman is one of the Big Ten’s best returning running backs (Doug McSchooler, AP)
The junior from Modesto, Calif. ranked highly in the Big Ten in most passing categories despite splitting time with Roberson. He finished fifth in passing yards (2,523), total offense per game (207.4), and completion percentage (60.2), and third in yards per completion (13.0) and yards per attempt (7.8). He threw 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions and looks to take another step forward as the main man this fall.
Unfortunately, four of his top five pass-catchers from 2013 are no longer in Bloomington, most notably the Big Ten’s third-leading receiver, Cody Latimer, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the NFL Draft. The leading returning receiver is senior Shane Wynn, who caught 46 passes for 633 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. The 5’7″, 167-pound slot receiver ranks fifth in career receiving touchdowns in Indiana history (17), eighth in receptions (133), and 17th in receiving yards (1,490). Joining him will be fellow seniors Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The two combined for 26 receptions, 362 yards, and two touchdowns last season, but will need to take a much bigger role this fall. Pushing them, however, will be four-star recruit Dominique Booth, who enrolled early and already has the size (6’1″, 208) to contribute immediately.
While there’s a lot of production to replace out wide, the backfield returns the best part of its one-two punch. One of the Big Ten’s best running backs, Tevin Coleman, is back for his junior season. Drew ranked him third behind Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Coleman just missed 1,000 yards last season, rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry. Oh, and he did it all in nine games before he missed the final three with an ankle injury. He had 78 yards on 11 carries against Michigan and an astounding 215 yards on just 15 carries against Illinois.
The second part of IU’s one-two punch from 2013, Stephen Houston, is gone. He had just 19 fewer carries than Coleman and rushed for 753 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Replacing him will be senior D’Angelo Roberts, who had 232 yards on 4.5 yards per carry last season. Nearly half of his yardage came in the season finale against Purdue, in which he rushed for 113 yards on just 14 carries. Prior to Coleman’s injury, however, Roberts had just 17 carries in nine games, so he’ll need to adjust to a bigger workload. Redshirt junior Anthony Davis, who transferred from the University of Dayton in 2012, could earn reps (he carried 10 times for 65 yards in the season opener last year), and incoming freshman Tommy Mister, the 2013 Chicago Catholic League Player of the Year, will also get a chance to earn playing time.
The offensive line returns plenty of starting experience that will certainly be beneficial for Coleman and Sudfeld. The unit has ranked as one of the Big Ten’s best the past two years, and this year should be no different. Left tackle Jason Spriggs is our third-best lineman individual lineman the conference. The 6’7″, 307-pound junior has started all 24 games of his career thus far and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in both 2012 and 2013. Left guard Bernard Taylor has the most career starts on the team (25). He started nine games a year ago. Center Collin Rahrig started 10 games in 2013, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors by the media. The former walk-on has started 24 career games.
The right side of the line is where it gets interesting. Right guard Dan Feeney and right tackle Peyton Eckert both suffered season-ending injuries in fall camp, making room for others to step in. Redshirt junior Ralston Evans started all 12 games at right tackle, while Jake Reed, David Kaminski, and Jacob Bailey all started games at right guard and all return. Feeney was an honorable mention All-Big Ten member as a true freshman in 2012 and Eckert started a combined 18 games in 2011 and 2012. With that much returning experience, the Hoosiers should once again have one of the best lines in the Big Ten.
||22 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FR
||25 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF
||39 tackles, 3.5 TFL
||26 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT
||68 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack
||59 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 FF, 1 FR
||85 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR
||73 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 20 PBU, 1 FR
||42 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD, 1 FF
||35 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR
||84 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF
There can’t be many teams that have had such a dichotomy between offense and defense. Remember in Rich Rodriguez’s last season when Michigan’s scoring offense ranked 25th nationally but its scoring defense ranked 107th? Well, Indiana’s scoring offense last season ranked 16th and its scoring defense ranked 115th. Only nine teams in the country allowed more points per game than the Hoosiers did. They ranked 123rd in total defense (527.9 yards per game), 117th in rush defense (237.8 yards per game), 120th in pass defense (290.2 yards per game), and 114th in third-down conversion defense (46.2 percent).
New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr may be the most important factor in how high Indiana’s ceiling is this season (Mark Dolejs, USA Today Sports)
The new defensive coordinator will be charged with simply improving the defense to average, which would surely improve the Hoosiers’ win total. The biggest change will be transforming from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which Knorr ran at Wake Forest.
“I think the system makes you more multiple,” Knorr said. “The opportunity to have three linemen and to get more linebackers on the field. And it helps not having to recruit four true down linemen. It’s hoped the alignment will make it more difficult for foes to tell where pressure and blitzes are coming from.”
The good news is he has some bodies to work with up front. Redshirt sophomore Ralph Green started nine games last season and was named to BTN.com’s honorable mention All-Big Ten team and CollegeFootballNews.com’s honorable mention Freshman All-American team. At 6’5″, 325-pounds, he’s a nice big body to clog the middle. Redshirt junior Adarius Rayner has only two starts under his belt, but will provide depth, as will redshirt freshman Nate Hoff, who was a scout team star a year ago.
Sophomore Darius Latham, a four-star recruit who had several big-time offers, and senior Bobby Richardson, who has 16 career starts, will be in the mix to start. Richardson led all IU linemen with 39 tackles last season, while Latham impressed as a true freshman, being named honorable mention All-Big Ten Freshman by BTN.com. The other end who will factor in is another former four-star, sophomore David Kenney, who recorded nine tackles in seven games last season.
The top six tackles among Indiana’s linebackers from 2013 all return, and converted defensive end Nick Mangieri will join them. The 6’5″, 265-pound junior started 10 games last season, leading the team with 85 tackles, and ranking second with three sacks and six tackles-for-loss. Fifth-year senior David Cooper has started all 24 games since transferring from Coffeyville Community College in 2012. Fellow senior Flo Hardin has three years of experience under his belt, while a host of sophomores, T.J. Simmons, Marcus Oliver, and Clyde Newton, will be among the rotation.
Both of last year’s starting corners are back in senior Tim Bennett and redshirt junior Michael Hunter. Bennett was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media after leading the nation with 20 pass breakups and 21 passes defended. Hunter recorded seven pass breakups and picked off one pass. They will be backed by redshirt freshman Rashard Fant, a former four-star recruit. Strong safety Mark Murphy, who has 28 career starts at strong safety is back, but the loss of free safety Greg Heban, who started 38 career games, will hurt. Stepping in will be another former four-star recruit, sophomore Antonio Allen. He played in seven games last season and got his first career start against Michigan, but tore his ACL in that game and missed the rest of the season.
||Aaron Del Grosso
||40.6 avg, 18 in-20, 7 50+
||18 ret, 23.1 avg.
||7 ret, 14.0 avg., 1 TD
Kicker Mitch Ewald, who was named second team All-Big Ten by the coaches last season, has graduated. He made 9-of-11 field goals and finished an impressive career having made 53-of-66 (80.3 percent). No other kicker has attempted a field goal at Indiana since 2010, and Wilson will be hard-pressed to find one as consistent as Ewald. The most likely candidate this fall is redshirt freshman walk-on Aaron Del Grosso. Punter Erich Toth is back after booting 52 punts for an average of 40.6 yards last season. That tied with Michigan punter Matt Wile for seventh-best in the conference.
The return game is led by Wynn, who averaged 23.1 yards per kick return a year ago, and while he didn’t take one all the way in 2013, he does have one in his career. He also returned a punt for a touchdown last season and averaged 14 yards per punt return. However, Indiana’s defense didn’t force many punts, so Wynn’s seven returns weren’t enough to rank among the conference leaders. If it was, he would have ranked third.
As I’ve already mentioned, if the defense can simply improve slightly, it should be enough to at least get the Hoosiers back into the postseason. Even with the relative inexperience at receiver, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat. Sudfeld should thrive as the full-time starter, especially with a home-run threat like Coleman in the backfield and a talented and experienced front line.
The main issue lies in the schedule, which sees the Hoosiers travel to Missouri in Week 4 (their third game), then face a rough stretch of at Iowa, home against Michigan State, at Michigan, home against Penn State. They also have to travel to Columbus the second-to-last week of the season. Wilson’s squad should be able to get through the non-conference at 3-1, but will have trouble getting any momentum. Count the conference-opener with Maryland and the season-ender with Purdue as wins, and the Hoosiers will need to pull off a road win at Rutgers or knock off one of the aforementioned teams to become bowl-eligible. It’s certainly doable, but will take some work. Six wins are likely, seven would be great, and anything above that might get Wilson nominated for mayor in Bloomington.
What it means for Michigan
Indiana gets a bye week between hosting Michigan State and traveling to Ann Arbor, while Michigan will be coming off a trip to East Lansing. It will be a tough one emotionally for the Wolverines because they’ll either be coming down from the high of their second win over their in-state rival in seven years — their second in three years — or trying to rebound from the stinging disappointment of a sixth loss in seven years. But Michigan has Indiana’s number, having won the last 18 meetings and 33 of the last 34. Indiana’s strength — its offense — will match up against what should be a very good Michigan defense. The Wolverines surely won’t allow 47 points as they did last year, and while the offense probably won’t score 63, it won’t have to. Look for a comfortable Michigan win in this one.