Indiana football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Hoosiers, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Indiana Offense
The offense rolled last season finishing 14th in the nation averaging over 500 yards per game, but it’s got to replace three of the major parts – QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Jordan Howard and OT Jason Spriggs.
Eight starters return with three starters returning to a solid offensive front, starting with Dan Feeney at one guard spot. There’s no replacing an NFL blocker like Spriggs, but this is a veteran line with four senior starters – it should be one of the team’s big strengths in time.
The receiving corps might be the best in the Kevin Wilson era with the top three targets returning to make life easier in the quarterback transition. Simmie Cobbs is the deep threat, but this is a loaded group with plenty of options to take over games whenever needed.
Can Devine Redding step in for Howard? He came up with a 1,000-yard season doing a great job when he got his chances as the main back – the running game will be solid – but can Richard Lagow be the Next Bomber Up in place of Sudfeld? There are other possibilities, but the JUCO transfer looks the part of what the O needs to keep the production going.
Biggest Key To The Indiana Offense
Don’t turn the ball over. Overall, the Hoosiers weren’t killed by big mistakes with a +8 turnover margin on the year, and the offense only gave it up 14 times, but when they did give it away it was often a killer. Ten of the 14 giveaways came in the seven losses – obviously meaning four came in the six wins. The defense is never going to be good enough to overcome a whole bunch of stress, and the offense is going to be a machine at times – so just don’t screw it up.
What You Need To Know About The Indiana Defense
As always, the Indiana defense gave up yards and points as fast as the offense could crank them up, especially through the air finishing with the second-worst pass defense in college football. In their eternal quest to try fixing the glitch, the Hoosiers changed up defensive coordinators with Tom Allen taking over and installing a 4-2-5 alignment.
On the plus side, the D gets back eight starters including the four starters in the secondary. Jonathan Crawford is a great-looking young safety to lead the way, but the production has to somehow show a night-and-day improvement after allowing 314 yards per game.
The linebacking corps is loaded – at least by IU’s standards – with T.J. Simmons and Marcus Oliver ready to come up with massive statistical seasons, and to go along with Clyde Newton, this is a great group to work around.
And then there’s the defensive line. The Hoosiers came up with just 13 sacks and got shoved around against the run, and now they have to try improving with just one returning defensive lineman. Ralph Green is the anchor on the nose, but young pass rushers have to emerge around him.
Biggest Key To The Indiana Defense
Pass defense, pass defense, pass defense. The Hoosiers got bombed on by everyone buy Maryland and Duke, giving up 400 yards or more three times and 240 yards or more in every game but three. The secondary gave up more than 1,000 yards than it did in 2014 and struggled to come up with the stops needed to give the offense breaks in several close games. There’s experience returning, and there will be more help in the new alignment, but the production has to follow.
Indiana Will Be Far Better If …
It takes advantage of every opportunity to win a close game. This wasn’t really a problem two years ago with just three games decided by seven points or fewer, and there were just two – losing both of them – in 2013. The offense is going to be good enough to crank up 30 points a game without a problem, but it’ll often take more than that. It has to be a timely attack, and the sieve of a defense has to be just good enough to hold on once in a while late. Last year the Hoosiers lost five games decided by eight points or fewer and lost three games when scoring 41 points or more.
Best Indiana Offensive Player
OG Dan Feeney, Sr. – It’s been one of the unsung parts of the Indiana fun on a Big Ten scale, and even on a national one – the line has been terrific. Jason Spriggs was the latest IU blocking star, and this year it’ll be Feeney, an NFL-caliber interior blocker who’s a destructive force for the ground game and with the feet to be a nice pass protector. The Hoosiers have a pro starter anchoring its line.
Best Indiana Defensive Player
LB Marcus Oliver, Jr. – Linebacker running mate T.J. Simmons could easily turn into the best defensive player, and safety Jonathan Crawford might be the main man for the long haul, but it’s Oliver who brings the pop in the interior. The team’s leading tackler should be a mortal lock for over 100 tackles again if he can stay healthy and should be the leader of the back eight that’s full of experience.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Richard Lagow, Jr. – The IU defense is the IU defense – you know what you’re going to get. It’s up to the offense to – cliché alert – outscore everyone, and that starts with Lagow. The 6-6, 240-pound JUCO transfer has the power arm and deep ball skills to stretch the field, and if it’s not him under center, the offense will take on a different look.
The Indiana Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s back-to-back bowl seasons for the first since 1990-1991. With 17 starters returning, decent enough replacements for the personnel losses to get by, and with the expectations that yeah, it’s okay to win football games at Indiana, winning six regular season games again is a must. This time, the Hoosiers might not gag away their bowl game. Anything less than a second straight post-season appearance will be a massive disappointment.
Oct. 15 vs. Nebraska – If there’s any hope of being good enough to get to a bowl game, Indiana should be no worse than 3-2 before hitting the middle of the season. The back half of the slate isn’t all that bad with at least four winnable games, but the season could turn sensational with a home win over Nebraska. It’s the first time the two programs have met since the Huskers joined the Big Ten and the first meeting since a 69-17 Nebraska win in 1978.
2015 Indiana Fun Stats
– Sacks: Indiana 30 for 146 yards – Opponents 13 for 92 yards
– Interception Return Average: Indiana 19.8 on 12 picks – Opponents 0.2 yards on eight picks
– On-side Kicks: Indiana 2-for-2 – Opponents 1-for-4