Today is the start of Fall Camp for the Indiana Hoosiers, and while it still feels much like Summer, September 5th is arriving quick and with it, IU football. As with any season, this one brings with it a plethora of questions before the first kick-off. Here’s the top five heading into this season.
5. Will the 3-4 defense improve in its second season?
With defensive coordinator Brian Knorr starting his second season with the Hoosiers, his 3-4 defense that he implemented last season should now be more familiar to returning players.
During last week’s Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, defensive tackle Adarius Rayner said he felt the defense as a whole was a lot more comfortable with the 3-4 defense this year.
“Everyone’s adapting to what they’re supposed to be doing,” Rayner said. “[Now] we just have to go out and perform.”
With familiarity to the defensive schemes, performing should come easier to a defense that knows what their coach is looking for.
Personnel wise, a strong linebacker corp is crucial to any self-respecting 3-4 defense, and it’s looking like the Hoosiers will have just that. Despite the loss of Forisse Hardin and David Cooper, the linebackers won’t miss a beat as they return most of their core, all of whom played under Knorr last season.
The bonus for this unit is that, together, they’re a mixed breed. Some—like Tegray Scales—are athletic and quick enough to drop back into pass coverage, while others—like Zack Shaw—are big enough to help the defensive line out with run stopping.
The mix and depth of the linebacker corp will be the main reason behind any success the IU defense might have.
4. Can they replace the hole left by Tevin Coleman’s departure?
With Coleman moving on to bigger and better things in the NFL, he leaves behind a hole at running back that IU needs to replace in order to have any hope at having a dynamic offense. It would take a great player to replace Coleman’s 2,000-yard workload; how do two players sound?
With Jordan Howard coming over from the defunct-but-now-brought-back-to-life UAB football team and Devine Redding stepping up, this backfield duo could, in fact, produce as much if not more than Coleman did last season.
Howard himself rushed for 1,587 yards last season with UAB, while Redding showed some flashes against North Texas—where he rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown—and against Missouri where he rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries.
Of course, Howard rushed for over 1,500 yards in Conference USA whose defenses certainly don’t match up to those of the Big Ten, while Redding only saw a total of 29 carries all of last season. It’s safe to say that these two have yet to prove they can be a force running the ball consistently against Big Ten defenses.
Despite the uncertainty, the two backs’ past resumes form what could be the object to plug up the hole Coleman left behind.
It may take a few weeks to find their footing, but at this point—baring injury, of course—the two backs seem to be in a good position to make some noise together in the backfield.
3. Will their lines be as dominant as Kevin Wilson believes?
“If you can’t play up front in the Big Ten, you can’t play winning Big Ten football.”
Those were the words spoken by IU head coach Kevin Wilson at Big Ten Media Day. Throughout the day, he raved about how strong he thinks his offensive and defensive lines are coming into this year.
I don’t blame him, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the front lines for the Hoosiers.
They have multiple defensive lineman who have multiple seasons of experience coming back, and despite losing Collin Rahrig to graduation and Ralston Evans to injury, the offensive line has the depth they now need in order to put an above average product on the field to protect Nate Sudfeld.
The 6’7” 305 pound senior Jason Spriggs will certainly be the headliner on the O-line for the Hoosiers, and he’ll have height and size all around him. In fact, no one on the offensive line depth chart is shorter than 6’4” and only two out of the nine men on the roster are less than 300 pounds. It safe to say, Sudfeld should feel safe behind these guys.
On the defensive front, the 3-4’s success, as Wilson said last Thursday in Chicago, starts up front. After looking at the Hoosiers’ D-line, the start of that 3-4 scheme looks strikingly good. The Hoosiers were last in the Big Ten last season in the pass rush, but with more familiarity with the 3-4 scheme combined with the experience of the front line and helping pass rush of quick linebackers, this defensive front could see itself have a successful season.
2. How will Nate Sudfeld play post-injury?
Bloomington’s love affair with Zander Diamont after the IU-Purdue game last November was fun while it lasted, but the Hoosiers didn’t have a realistic shot at winning games offensively without the more experienced Sudfeld at the helm.
It’s that fact that makes his comeback this season after injuring his shoulder last season so important.
Sudfeld last took a snap in a game for IU on October 10th of 2014. Since then, his team went 1-6 as they tried to adjust to their post-Sudfeld world.
With Sudfeld fully healthy now, and after a busy summer that included traveling to Uganda and participating in Manning’s Passing Academy, the Hoosiers’ offense has the potential to be the reason they make their first bowl game since 2007.
The main concern that could realistically hinder Sudfeld’s success is the inexperience of his receivers.
There’s no doubt the loss of J-Shun Harris will put a damper on the receiving core for IU. For a position that has found long-term success in Bloomington the past five or 10 years, this year will be a whirlwind of change, as fans will see a group of new arrivals and unproven talent thrown immediately into the mix.
How Sudfeld will build chemistry with his new receivers has yet to be seen, but he had nothing but good things to say about them last week while in Chicago.
“We have a deep core of receivers and they’re so hungry to be great,” Sudfeld said.
For someone who said he hated to see someone else do his job last season, Sudfeld used this year’s spring ball to “remind people that [he’s] still here.”
If he’s able to get the job done with his new receivers, people won’t be forgetting him for the foreseeable future.
1. Will the secondary be a liability or an asset?
The old adage ‘defense wins championships’ has gotten debunked in the past, but when not taken literally, there’s still something to be learned from the saying.
Defense may not win championships, but teams don’t win championships with bad defenses.
With all the hype surrounding IU’s defensive line, and the athletic-looking linebacker core, the secondary (along with the wide receivers) have the biggest question mark heading into this season.
Of course, the loss of Antonio Allen due to problems with the law put a major dent in a team who was expecting their lead tackler back this season. Without him, the safety position is now lead by redshirt-sophomore Chase Dutra. Besides Dutra, Wilson will be faced to play young, inexperienced secondary players, many of whom are largely unproven.
At this point, Hoosier fans are hoping Dutra was able to learn as much as possible from Allen while he was behind him last season because come September 6th, Dutra will be expected to anchor a secondary unit which looks to be the one of the Hoosiers’ biggest weakness.
On the defensive back front, there may be even more uncertainty than there is with the safety position. The Hoosiers only return two players from last season, the rest haven’t seen a snap. In fact, it’s so bad that many expect there to be some walk-ons added to the cornerback mix.
The uncertainty with the corners and sheer lack of talent at safety, the secondary as a whole for IU is sure to be blamed for many of IU’s defensive woes this season—should they occur. Essentially, barring some talent leap miracle, it will be up to the front seven on the defense to be at the top of their game if IU wants any chance to breach the top 10 in overall defense in the Big Ten and make it to six wins.
Big Picture: There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to be excited about this season for the Hoosiers. The return of Sudfeld and improvement of the front lines head that excitement. If the Hoosiers want any chance at making their first bowl game in eight years, Sudfeld will need to be on top of his game and the defense will have to be good enough to plug up the holes made by the secondary.