Q&A With Hoosier Huddle
Even as the Big Ten East has been stealing plenty of headlines, Indiana has gone under the radar yet again. This will be a pivotal season for the Hoosiers, though, after sinking to 4-8 last year from a somewhat encouraging 5-7 season the year before. To talk about 2015 and what it means, I asked Sammy Jacobs, founder of Hoosier Huddle, to come and break down where Indiana football stands.
Nick: First off, welcome. I've been a fan of your work for a while now, and it's great to have you on board to talk some football.
Sammy: Nick, thanks for linking up with us and thanks for the kind words. It is never a bad time to talk some Big Ten football. Let's get to it.
NB: Let's talk about Kevin Wilson for a bit. I've been impressed with him from everything I've seen, but at the end of the day he's still 14-34, and he's won 6 conference games in 4 years. Do you think he's the right coach for the job?
SJ: Indiana football is not and will not be an easy fix for any coach that comes in. I do believe that Kevin Wilson is the right guy for the job despite his struggles and a lack of a bowl game. In his first three years he went from one win to four then to five. He has not had an easy road either in regards to scheduling, but I think that this is the year that the talent and the schedule line up. It is year five and with two years left on his contract it may be time to make a decision at the end of the year one way or another.
NB: Is this a bounce-back year for the Hoosiers, would you say?
SJ: 2014 was kind of a lost year. As soon as quarterback Nate Sudfeld went down against Iowa in game six the hopes of a bowl game all but disappeared. With Sudfeld back this season, and he looked healthy in spring ball, the Hoosiers should have high expectations in 2015. The Hoosiers added a ton of offensive talent through transfers, Jordan Howard and Marqui Hawkins, and recruiting. Add in the young receivers who look vastly improved and this offense can return to look more like the 2013 Hoosiers than last year's team. It also helps that the schedule works in their favor a little more.
NB: Wilson's tenure at Indiana started off a bit rough. Do you want to summarize what happened, for those who don't know?
SJ: When Kevin Wilson took over the helm in December 2010, the Hoosiers were a mess, even though they were coming off a five win season. He lost a lot of players due to graduation, and then there's the fact that he completely changed the culture from what it was under Bill Lynch. All of that, combined with the lack of a quarterback, led to the 1-11 season in 2011.
There are other factors as well that have contributed to the rough start. One part of that is scheduling. The Hoosiers athletic director Fred Glass foolishly opted in for games against an always tough Navy squad and what turned out to be a back-to-back SEC East champion in Missouri (even if IU did knock off Mizzou in 2014 it was still a bad game). In 2013 the Hoosiers finished with five wins, one short of a bowl berth, and people will point to a heart breaking loss to Minnesota at home as well as a six point loss at home to Navy as the two things keeping them from the post season.
2014 started with high hopes, but there was a cloud hanging over the program as two quarterbacks who started games for IU, Tre Roberson and Cam Coffman, transferred. This left Sudfeld as the only experienced quarterback on the roster. The one thing IU could not afford to have happen to them in 2014 did indeed happen. Sudfeld got hurt and the wheels fell off.
NB: Wilson has settled in, though.
SJ: Yeah, I believe Wilson is fully entrenched in Bloomington going into year five. His recruiting classes have been some of the best in program history even if they have not gone to a bowl game. He has created a family-like culture where the players and staff expect to win every game. Even though the record has not been great, the Hoosiers have not had many games where they have been blown out of the water since 2011. They play hard and have never phoned it in.
In terms of schedules and working with (Indiana AD) Fred Glass to make a smart schedule that would make the path to six wins and a bowl berth, I believe they have gotten better. With the conference moving to nine games in 2016 it is of the highest priority that the Hoosiers put three winnable games on the docket. In the past couple of weeks IU has announced series with Ball State, Virginia, Florida International, and Western Kentucky. No one can predict how these teams will be in a couple of years they are a pretty safe bet to be winnable games for the Hoosiers.
NB: There are a couple exciting players returning from injury - quarterback Nate Sudfeld and left tackle Jason Spriggs. What do you expect from those guys?
SJ: The return of Nate Sudfeld is the biggest cause of optimism for the Hoosiers in 2015. He has the tools to be a top three quarterback in the conference and really put this offense on another level. Sudfeld was sharp in the spring and has gotten more familiar with his young receivers who had trouble with drops last season. Spriggs was healthy for spring, he played in 11 of 12 games in 2014 and should anchor a very good offensive line unit. If the IU offense does stay healthy this offense should be amongst the top teams in the conference.
NB: If Indiana wants to be a surprise in the East, they'll also have to show some more defensively, right? A lot of people have been wondering when Indiana's defense can turn the corner. There were some bright spots last year in terms of individual players - is that side also ready to take a step forward?
SJ: This has been the main question for the Hoosiers for the last two decades it seems. IU has had some nice defensive players over that period of time (ie. Tracy Porter, Matt Mayberry, Jamie Kerlew), but have never seemed to put it all together in the same year. The Hoosiers will have a very good front seven in 2015 with Darius Latham anchoring the defensive line and two-year starter T.J. Simmons bolstering a young, but very talented, linebacking corps. However, the Hoosiers are very young at corner and if the front seven cannot generate a pass rush these young corners could be exposed. The Hoosiers lost starters Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter after the 2014 season.
When talking to defensive coordinator Brian Knorr after the final spring practice it was easy to see that he was extremely excited with this group. Practices have been more physical and it shows that the players are more comfortable in year two of Knorr's 3-4 scheme.
NB: You guys struggled in a lot of the things that win football games - some poor special teams play, penalties, turnovers. You ranked 125th in red zone defense. Is this age? Depth? Coaching issues?
SJ: I think these issues are a combination of all three concepts. Whenever you allow opponents to score at a ridiculous clip of 96% inside the red zone something has to be wrong. IU's defense was really inexperienced last season and was making the transition to the 3-4 scheme, so that contributed to some of the struggles. It also did not help that the offense for most of the year was very inconsistent and did put the defense is really bad spots at times.
When it comes to turnovers and penalties the Hoosiers were boom or bust. For the most part IU played very disciplined football, but self destructed at the absolute worst time. They had two touchdowns called back early in their loss to Maryland that would have changed the outcome of that game. Not to mention if Tevin Coleman does not fumble in the fourth quarter at Bowling Green the Hoosiers put that game out of reach. In all, it wasn't the amount of penalties that killed IU it was when they happened. Timing is everything in life and football as they say.
NB: I couldn't let you go without asking about Tevin Coleman. How did his historic performance last year resonate with Indiana fans, in the midst of another losing season and some frustrating setbacks?
SJ: Tevin had a season that happens once in a generation. I hope it made an impact on the Hoosier fans that came out to the games, because it was an unbelievable performance, especially given that half the year they had no passing game and he was running on a foot that required surgery. The lack of fan support in Bloomington has to be concerning for everyone involved. Winning games should solve the problem, but those who did not see Tevin play missed one of the single greatest years in Big Ten football history.
NB: Yeah, I've noticed that Wilson has put a lot of effort in to engage the Indiana fan base and make it more of a football school. Finally, do you have a win-loss prediction?
SJ: Oh geez, a prediction haha. I think they get to a bowl game if Sudfeld stays healthy. I'll say 6-6 or 7-5.
NB: All right, I'll hold you to it.
Hitting the Links Thinks a Draft Happened
I worried in last Thursday's column if coaches would start diving into the art of grabbing cutesy headlines, and it turns out Meyer was already on it.
Penn State's left tackle Donovan Smith was somebody I expected big things from a year ago, but word out of State College was that he was a lazy talent. Still, the draft is a clean slate for everybody.
The Bucks were tied for most Big Ten draftees, but they should have a greater haul in '16. The 2003 champion Buckeyes had a similar year delay. This article talks up a bunch of 'potential first-rounders' a little too much, but it's still likely that they'll get drafted.
For a program many have been talking about, Stewart Mandel pumps the brakes just a little bit.
I see some of the points that Mandel makes about the B1G West, which he calls mostly "a train wreck." But I wouldn't go nearly that far. In fact, Mandel himself says that the East looked dramatically differently only two years ago; I've said it too often, but things change fast.
The Denver Broncos drafting Trevor Siemian was an interesting statement about the Wildcats. Siemian, who struggled mightily in Pat Fitzgerald's spread system, showed some of the prototypical traits that NFL types like. But there was a porous offensive line to account for, receivers that couldn't consistently break open, and too much miscommunication with the receivers as well. The Broncos obviously feel that Siemian's production (2214 yards last year, a career high) was more a statement about his situation and the rest of the offense than it was about Trevor.
On a related note, this is a fantastic shirt.
On an unrelated note, I am sick of looking up at the Buckeyes.
This is definitely worth a peek. The greatest question out of this year's draft might not be Winston vs. Mariota, but which of the class of receivers stands out the most.
What I like about this video is the home run potential that you see even on routine plays. Also, there's a terrific tackle by Vernon Hargreaves III, who is also one of the best players in the country, at 0:42.