Pay Attention. This Game is Bigger Than You Think.
Indiana State was…not good last year. The Sycamores finished 1-11, and things don’t look much brighter this year as the team is predicted to finish dead last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. When Indiana smashed the Sycamores in last season’s opener 73-35 writers were quick to caution fans about reading too much into the game.
Most would say the same about this year: Indiana will use the game as a final tune-up before the “real” season starts, and fans will delight in seeing the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium light up.
I couldn’t disagree more. In hindsight, the Indiana State game last year told us everything we needed to know about the Hoosiers entire season.
While the offense put up a gaudy numbers including 632 yards of total offense, they also made some careless mistakes that were easily overlooked at the time, but became unfortunate trends later in the season. The Hoosiers turned the ball over three times with Nate Sudfeld throwing two interceptions, including one which was returned for a touchdown.
Sudfeld’s untimely turnovers became an unfortunate characteristic of the offense. Most notable, with the Hoosiers on the verge of tying Missouri 21-21 just before half, Indiana instead entered the locker room down 28-14 against the eventual SEC divisional champs after Sudfeld threw a pick six. And then there was the red zone turnover against Minnesota that (some would argue) cost the Hoosiers a bowl birth. Sudfeld’s two interceptions in last year’s game were the most recorded in a single game by the Sycamores all year. Not a great stat if you’re a supposedly a top tier B1G QB considering this wasn’t even a FBS opponent, and ISU ended up ranked 89th in the FCS in pass defense efficiency.
And then there was the defense. The Hoosiers gave up 35 points to Indiana State including 21 in the first half. They also gave up 306 yards to the Sycamores. While that doesn’t sound awful, when the statistics are viewed in light of how Indiana State’s offense performed throughout the remainder of the season, it was flat our embarrassing. ISU finished the year ranked dead last in their conference (again- their FCS conference) in total offense. They were bad. Awful. Twice they were held under 100 yards of total offense (how is that possible?) against other FCS opponents, and their 306 yards against Indiana marked their fourth highest yardage total of the season. In other words, last year’s Hoosier defense was worse (much worse) than most defenses in the FCS Missouri Valley Football Conference. Embarrassing.
So while last year’s blowout didn’t seem to mean much at the time, it exposed two of Indiana’s greatest weaknesses: atrocious defense and untimely turnovers. That being said, this week’s “Keys to Victory” will be more of a “Keys to Having a Better Season” for the Hoosiers.
Keys to Victory
TAKE CARE OF THE FOOTBALL
A successful game for Nate Sudfeld will have nothing to do with total yardage or points put up against the laughingstock of the FCS. While safety is thought to be a strength of the ISU defensive unit, cornerback is perhaps the team’s greatest positional weakness. If Sudfeld throws anything more than 0 interceptions in this game, he’ll have nothing to celebrate.
HOLD ISU TO UNDER 200 YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE
Coach Wilson said he wants to see the defense play with “an unbelievable amount of energy and effort,” but fans should be more concerned with the bottom line. If seven out of ISU’s FCS opponents can hold the Sycamores under 300 yards and two can hold them under 100, Indiana will need to completely shut down the opposing offense if they want to convince anybody that this year is going to any different for the perennially inept Hoosier defense.
GET PRODUCTION FROM MULTIPLE RUNNING BACKS
It will be great if Tevin Coleman runs for 200 yards against ISU, but if Indiana is going to have the kind of running game they need in 2014 to keep opposing defense’s honest, they are going to need production from more than one back. Senior D’Angelo Roberts has shown spurts of productivity, but nothing to write home about. Laray Smith was supposedly the fastest guy on the team as a freshman last year, but has apparently been moved to corner back. Look for 5’10” 202 pound true freshman Devine Redding to get plenty of playing time in the backfield. If he shows that he can contribute to the ground game, Hoosier fans should feel a little better about the overall running back position (bearing in mind Coleman’s season-ending injury last year).
FIND A BACKUP QUARTERBACK
Tre Roberson had enough of the QB competition at Indiana and transferred to Illinois State…where he is again in a QB competition. That left the Hoosiers with no clear, viable backup for Nate Sudfeld. The most recent depth chart lists both walk-on Nate Bourdreau and true freshman Alexander Diamont as the number two QB. Presumably, Indiana will build a comfortable lead Saturday, and both players will get the opportunity to establish themselves as the backup. If both players fail to impress, Indiana may be one injury away from a leaderless offense. If at least one of the potential backups shows they can run the offense and handle the bright lights (or rather bright light of the sun as the game is at noon), fans won’t have to hold their breath every time Sudfeld is hit this year.
- Jordan Wallace, a highly touted recruit for the Hoosiers coming out of Warren Central who transferred to ISU, is expected to see the field at linebacker for the Sycamores.
- Shakir Bell, who was a back-to-back All-American and finished second in voting for the Walter Payton Award given to the top running back in FCS, has graduated. Phew.
- Like the Hoosiers, ISU switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme this off-season. Both teams will be debuting the front on Saturday.
- Indiana State linebacker Connor Underwood was the only Sycamore named to the preseason All-MVFC team, but he had an asterisk next to his name. The conference has a rule similar to that of the MLB All-Star game that states a minimum of one player from each team must be included in the preseason award list. It’s assumed that the MVFC also gives participation ribbons at the end of the season to all players.