Big Ten Spring Football Review: Indiana

Kevin Wilson

BuckeyeSports.com begins a series reviewing spring football from around the newly expanded Big Ten with East opponent Indiana. The Hoosiers continued honing a new offense while working in a new defensive coordinator.

Quick 2013 review:

Head coach Kevin Wilson's third Indiana team exited September just 2-2 then gained some notoriety for pounding Penn State 44-24. The Hoosiers pulled away from the Nittany Lions in the fourth quarter but could not sustain that momentum in future weeks, dropping their next three before getting back in the win column by stopping hapless Illinois on Nov. 9. Considering three of its losses were to ranked teams and another came against a Missouri squad that won the SEC East, Indiana can likely look to the 41-35 loss to Navy in week two as the game that prevented it from going to a bowl.

The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing yards as well as passing yards allowed. They also boasted a strong running game (201.8 yards per game) but one of the nation's worst rushing defenses (237.8 ypg.) in terms of raw numbers.

As far as advanced stats from Football Outsiders, the Indiana offense looked even better at eighth nationally in rushing S&P+ (akin to OPS in baseball, a combination of play efficiency and big play ability) and 17th in passing. The overall offensive S&P+ ranked 16th nationally and behind only Ohio State in the Big Ten.

Defensively, the advanced stats did not do much for the Hoosiers, who still ranked in the 90s nationally in most categories but can at least claim superiority to Purdue and Illinois in overall defensive S&P+.


Spring game recap:

Tre Roberson threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Shane Wynn and ran for a 65-yard touchdown to lead the Cream to a 24-14 win in front of 9,231 fans at Memorial Stadium. Roberson, a junior who shared quarterback duties with Nate Sudfeld last season, completed 10 of 22 passes for 176 yards with an interception along with the TD. He also ran seven times (including three sacks) for 66 yards. Wynn led all receivers with 141 yards on five grabs. Nate Hoff, a redshirt freshman lineman from Solon, Ohio, led the Cream defense with seven tackles, including a sack.

With Sudfeld at the controls, the Crimson gained eight more first downs but averaged nearly three fewer yards per play. Sudfeld was 29 for 40 with a touchdown pass and a pair of interceptions. Linebacker Clyde Newton led the Crimson defense with five tackles and an interception.


Issues addressed:

Brian Knorr was hired to fix a defense that has never been good in recent years and generally looked worse than the sum of its parts last season. He is new to the Big Ten but not Big Ten country, having been head coach at Ohio University from 2001-04. He also received a master's in business administration from the University of Dayton while serving in the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

He didn't like seeing the big plays the newly installed 3-4 defense allowed in the spring game, but he felt good about some of the other things he saw, including three interceptions and two times the offenses were turned away without points in the red zone. Neither offense converted half of its third-down opportunities, either, combining to go 11 for 26.

"That's the key for us, being able to get off the field," Knorr told reporters in Bloomington. "Hopefully three-and-outs, but when they do get first downs hopefully big plays will be able to hold them and get the ball back for our offense." 

He called this the most physical spring session he has been part of, something that was necessary as they develop players' ability to get off of blocks and make open-field tackles.

"That's what our offense does probably as good as anybody in the country: They make you defend the whole field," he said. "We've got to make plays in the open field. I was encourage that we tackled pretty well in the open field. Tevin made us miss once or twice and so did Tre, but for the most part we were able to down the ball in the open field and that will be important for us this fall." 

With nine starters returning, experience should not be a big issue, but better fundamental play was an easy need to identify.

As for the offense, there was no indication the quarterback rotation that took place all last season will end this season as long as Roberson and Sudfeld are both healthy.

Roberson, the starter as a true freshman in 2011 and the beginning of 2012 before a nasty broken leg sidelined him, appears to have the bigger upside as a dual-threat player, and he benefitted from having another year between him and the injury.

"Really with Tre, just getting him to relax and throw the ball, he's very good," offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. "What happens is he gets nervous, he grips the ball too tight, he overstrides -- little things. He tries too hard to be honest with you, but when that kid just goes out with a smile on his face and relaxes, he's capable of some very big things. As is the other guy as well, but Tre throws the ball very well when he can just relax and play." 

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