Adventures in Offense 2013: Indiana

Running back Stephen Houston. - Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Indiana's offense was its saving grace a year ago. Will there be improvement this year?

2012 Quick Stats

Passing Offense: 1st in Big Ten, 17th Nationally
Rushing Offense: 10th in Big Ten, 96th Nationally
Scoring Offense: 4th in Big Ten, 51st Nationally
Total Offense: 2nd in Big Ten, 34th Nationally

3rd Down Conversions: 37.37% (74 out of 198 attempts)
4th Down Conversions: 50% (11 out of 22 attempts)
Red Zone Conversions: 86.27% (44 out of 51 attempts)
Total Points: 369 (46 TD, 15 FG, 42 extra point, 3 two-point)
Average points per game: 30.8

2012 Record: 4-8 (2-6 in Big Ten)
Record vs. Michigan: 9-52
Head Coach Kevin Wilson: 5-19 at Indiana and overall

What's up with the offense?

Two years ago, Kevin Wilson was in his first season at Indiana, his first as a head coach, and he went 1-11. The Hoosiers couldn't do much of anything at the beginning of the season, and they had to rely on a balanced attack to carry them through to the end. It was largely the combined rushing tandem of quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Stephen Houston that powered the offense, in a sort of Pat White/Steve Slaton kind of way. While not spectacular, Houston was by far the team's most productive player, averaging 5.3 yards a carry. Roberson passed the ball, but he was a far bigger threat on the ground.

So we got this sense that Indiana's offense might go the way of a "running spread" in the Rich Rod or Chip Kelly type mold. Then 2012 happened. Not only did Indiana's offensive numbers take a huge leap forward, they also slanted in a direction that was much more on the passing side of things. The Hoosiers jumped four spots in passing rank in the conference, and 63(!) spots nationally. They more than doubled their passing touchdowns (24) and added more than 1300 yards to their aerial attack.

Here's a quick chart summarizing the progression of Wilson's offense:

Year Win/Loss Pass Offense Rank Pass Yards Passing TDs Rush Offense Rank Rush Yards Rushing TDs First Downs
2011 1-11 5th Conf., 80th Natl.
2393 10 9th Conf., 54th Natl.
1932 18 241
2012 4-8 1st Conf., 17th Natl. 3744 24 10th Conf., 96th Natl.
1560 21 272

As you can see, while the Hoosiers improved in just about every category, their running numbers took a hit, which tells you something. We can now see the type of offense that Kevin Wilson plans to run at Indiana, and at this point there shouldn't be any more question what it is. It's an Air Raid offense.

More proof comes from Wilson's hiring of Seth Littrell in 2012 as his offensive coordinator. Although the Wilson-Littrell situation is probably more along the lines of Littrell being an "offensive coordinator in name only," similar to the situation that Brian Kelly had with Charley Molnar or Rich Rodriguez has with Calvin Magee, where the head coach (not the offensive coordinator) calls the plays, it's still telling that Wilson hired a guy who coached the Air Raid at two other Air Raid schools: Arizona under Mike Stoops, and Texas Tech under Mike Leach.

The Hoosiers passed the ball almost 140 more times (537 total attempts) than they ran (398 total carries), and they had more than twice as many passing yards (3744) as rushing yards (1560). This was probably because Indiana was much more efficient at passing under Cameron Coffman, finally giving Wilson the offensive breakthrough that he wanted, showing that he's trying to get Indiana more like what he had under Bob Stoops.

As a point of contrast, in Wilson's final year as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator (2010), the Sooners passed the ball 633 times and ran it 578 times. While those relatively close numbers might seem like an indicator of a more balanced attack, throwing the ball more than 600 times is conducive to an Air Raid offense. (To give you more of a frame of reference, Michigan's current OC, Al Borges, who is known to favor the deep passes of a West Coast offense, only had 426 passing attempts at San Diego State in 2010.)

It wasn't just that the Hoosiers took strides offensively, they were also efficient. Indiana went from scoring 21.6 points per game in 2011 to 30.6 in 2012. They added 31 more first downs and increased their red zone conversion rate from 75.68% to 86.27%. Combine that with going from fifth-ranked passing in the Big Ten to first, and you can easily say the Hoosiers' offense definitely wins the award for Most Improved.

Key Players

Although Kevin Wilson has plenty of options at quarterback, the likely choice seems to be junior Cameron Coffman, a former JUCO transfer from Arizona Western. Coffman led the Hoosiers' offense in passing by a wide margin in 2012, after Tre Roberson broke is leg in the second game of the season. Roberson is recovering from his injury and could very well be the starter by the time the season starts in the fall, but his lack of production in the spring game (7-for-18, 63 yards) suggests that he might not be up to speed.

Last year Coffman had 2,734 yards passing and a completion percentage of 60.7 percent (247-for-407 attempts). He also had the most passing attempts at QB in the 2013 spring game (23), where he completed 17 passes for 174 yards and 2 TDs. However, sophomore Nate Sudfield had the most productive performance, though he was limited to 16 attempts, he completed 14 of them for 187 yards and a touchdown. As a freshman in 2012 Sudfield had a slightly better completion percentage (62.2) than Coffman, but was playing as Coffman's backup and only threw 82 passes to Coffman's 407.

I am greatly intrigued by running back Stephen Houston. He is statistically Indiana's most productive offensive player, and arguably their most valuable player. He was the driving force of Indiana's rushing attack in 2011: his aggregate 802 rushing yards that year were the most from a Hoosier tailback since Benjarvus Green-Ellis in 2003. Although his numbers in 2012 took a slight dip because the offense implemented more of a passing attack, he still led the team in rushing with 749 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 4.65 yards a carry. Most importantly, at 6'0", 220 lbs., he has DA BEEF of a bona fide Big Ten back.

There is only one thing about him that bothers me: he wears #12. What in the Sam Hill is Kevin Wilson thinking giving a running back #12? What running back wears #12? Have you ever seen a running back wear #12? I didn't think so. Get off my lawn.

(Side note. To be fair, Benjarvus Green-Ellis wore #7 at Indiana, a number traditionally reserved for a quarterback or star linebacker. Talk about angering the football deities. No wonder their program is up and down all the time. Stop giving running backs weird numbers, Indiana! Why don't you try #22 like a normal program?! /rant)

Indiana returns a triple tandem of wide receivers in senior Kofi Hughes (43 receptions, 639 yards, 3 TDs), junior Shane Wynn (67 receptions, 648 yards, 6 TDs), and junior Cody Latimer (51 receptions, 805 yards, 6 TDs). While Hughes has the most experience and dependability, Latimer and Wynn caught the only touchdowns in the spring game, showing that they are far more explosive in making big catches as emerging stars in the offense.

They'll also have some help from senior Ted Bolser (41 receptions, 445 yards, 3 TDs), the Hoosiers' most productive tight end. Between the four of them, the Hoosiers had well over 2,000 yards receiving, and the unit might be the best receiving corps in the Big Ten.

According to 247sports, Indiana returns four starters on the offensive line: sophomore left tackle Jason Spriggs, who played as a true freshman in 2012; junior left guard Bernard Taylor, who switched from defense to offense in 2011; sophomore right guard Dan Feeney; and junior right tackle Peyton Eckhart, who started in all 12 games in 2012. The only position that truly needs a replacement is center. Redshirt junior Collin Rahrig has the experience, having started the last six games of 2012 at left guard, and seems like the most palpable option, since he stepped in at center for the spring game.

Conclusion

As Zach aptly put in his introductory post of previewing Indiana, the offense was not the problem. The Hoosiers' stunning leap from 80th in passing nationally to 17th in the span of one year looks like a massive turnaround. However, Indiana may have been more efficient passing, but they sacrificed balance. Indiana was 34th in total offense, behind such teams as the Ohio Bobcats and the Ball State Cardinals. That's far above average, but probably not where the Hoosiers want to be.

Nevertheless, the explosive efficiency of Wilson's offense was what kept his team in games against opponents with far superior talent. Had the Hoosiers possessed any semblance of a defense, 2012 would have likely been a bowl year for the perennially bowl-less folks from Bloomington. Still, there were clear signs of progress. The Hoosiers were a hair away from knocking off Ohio State, kept Michigan State on the ropes, and I imagine that when they play Michigan in 2013, it won't be a cakewalk for the Wolverine defense either.

Unlike most of the offenses in the Big Ten going into 2013, Indiana has a very important thing: an identity. They know what they have, who they are, and what they can do. They might not be the most balanced of teams, and we'll probably see them be even less balanced in the upcoming season. But they know how to score points, and they can do it against just about anyone. On top of all that, Indiana returns 10 starters on offense, more than anyone else in the Big Ten except Minnesota. That makes them one of the conference's most dangerous units.

Grade: A-

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