Kevin Wilson’s debut was a rough one as the Hoosiers skidded to a 1-11 mark overall and an 0-8 Big Ten record. But it’s a building process and Wilson knows that. He spent most of last season implementing his schemes—and trying to get players to buy into what he wants and demands from them. In my ongoing series of Big Ten Spring Football writer roundtables, I talked to three writers who cover the Hoosiers to get their views on Indiana’s top priorities this spring.
Did you miss my previous roundtables? Read them here: Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois. And keep reading this post to find out what I heard from Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star, Dustin Dopirak of the Bloomington Herald-Times, and Pete DiPrimio of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.
Progress is continuing as Indiana pursues its first bowl since 2007 but they have to develop a defense. The Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense (458.7 ypg) and run defense (243.7 ypg), and eighth in pass defense (215.0 ypg). And when it came to generating turnovers, Indiana was 11th with only 16. Sacks? The Hoosiers were 11th with 1.5 per game. You get the picture.
The offense also has work to do, as the line needs to get a better push in the ground game. And is Tre Roberson a lock to start at quarterback with new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell in town?
“With Indiana, it always starts with defense. They need to get better across the board at all positions. I have covered them 14 years. And I have been to one bowl in that time. And from 1998-2002, they had arguably the most exciting player in Antwaan Randle El at quarterback and he never took them to a bowl. They average about 38 points but gave up something like 45 (most of those seasons. That’s how it always has been. They haven’t been able to stop anyone at a consistent level to put themselves in position to win. They need more pressure up front. They need to do a better job in coverage.
“They have brought in several JCs on defense with an eye on upgrading that side of the ball. A couple are banged up so we haven’t seen them a lot. But there are reasons to think they will be a little better on defense. But it’s hard to be competitive anyway with the teams Indiana is playing every year, with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin all in the Leaders Division.
“It’s interesting how they have flip-flopped offensive coordinators, bringing in Seth Littrell from Arizona and Indiana’s old co-OC (Rod Smith) going to Arizona. When you bring in Kevin Wilson who has an offensive background and has done a lot with some great quarterbacks at Oklahoma, I never really thought the offense would be the issue.
“Tre Roberson is similar to a lot of the quarterbacks Indiana has had over the years, Kellen Lewis, Antwaan Randle El, guys who can get it done running and passing. The JC quarterback Cameron Coffman is on campus. I saw him in a scrimmage, and he may be able to challenge Roberson a bit, but they are different kinds of quarterbacks.
“Stephen Houston and D’Angelo Roberts are decent running backs. But the question will be up front. They have some holes on the o-line. In this league, you have to be able to run, but they haven’t been able to do that consistently over the years. One kid who came in who they expected to play upfront last year was Ralston Evans, but he got hurt before the season started and redshirted. He still isn’t practicing. He’s a guy they look at as being an anchor at left tackle. Will Matte at center is another. Some others got a bit of experience last year up front.”
“They have to get some sort of focus as a program, but they have come a long way with that. Last year, you had a lot of guys leaving as there were some guys who just weren’t happy with the new regime. There has been a lot of progress with that. They need to continue to build on the foundation of understanding what Kevin Wilson wants in terms of work ethic, conditioning and doing what he wants done and buying into it. There is a much better atmosphere this spring. There is so much to fix, you almost have to start foundationally.
“They have to fix the defense all the way around. There was nothing they could say they were good at last year. They had a couple of players who were OK, but they weren’t good against the run, the pass, didn’t have a good pass rush or weren’t good in coverage. They have a new ends coach in Jon Fabris who is making some progress in developing a rush. They have five JC kids enrolled now, so they need competition to make everyone get better.
“(S) Mark Murphy is back and was impressive as a true freshman last year. The Hardins (Drew and Forisse) kid were pretty good a safety. (CB) Kenny Mullen was OK. (CB) Greg Heban was Ok. But there isn’t a place on the defense where there wasn’t a hole. The only place they were remotely respectable was defensive tackle and those guys are seniors and are coming back. Other than that, they need someone to step in just about everywhere.
“LB Jeff Thomas was their best defensive player, and he is gone. The JC linebackers they brought in look pretty good, David Cooper, Jacarri Alexander.
“On offense, they have to throw the ball better. They got Seth Littrell from Arizona. He likes to throw it around. And (Kevin) Wilson wants to throw it more. They have to pick a QB first. Tre Roberson has a chance to keep it but (JC transfer Cameron) Coffman is on campus and competing and a true freshman is coming in (Nathan Sudfeld) who could win it. Whoever is quarterback has to be able to throw. Roberson has made progress and has more zip on the ball, is sharper and is making deeper throws. He was a runner last year. Coffman looks solid. Not a great arm but good enough. Sudfeld is bigger and could have the best arm of all.
“Indiana needs some OTs. They lost stalwarts in Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald. They didn’t have great protection last year but found a way to run the ball. But they have to pass protect if they want to throw the ball more.”
“Indiana has a lot of work. Defensively, they were really bad. They have to shore up everything, get bigger and stronger on the line. Last year, the staff leaned up (the players) and got both lines more fit. But they need more bulk and size. So they got muscled up a bit.
“The secondary had a lot of mistakes last year. Two defensive backs were playing one coverage, the two others were playing another—a lot of miscommunication, in part because they played 32 freshmen—16 true and 16 redshirt.
“Stephen Houston is a pretty solid running back. Tre Roberson is a dual-threat guy at quarterback. He has a significant amount of talent and is an athlete who can run and throw. They have some decent receivers. The offensive line has to get better.
“Seth Littrell has a Texas Tech background, so they want to upgrade the passing attack. He is here to improve the passing game. They want to complete 65 percent or higher of their passes. He’ll have some decent receivers to work with, but the attack needs to run with most consistency.”
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. You can subscribe to the Daily Links RSS here, find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.