Ugly by design:
Before getting yourself into a tizzy about the passing game’s apparent struggles, take a deep breath and look at the big picture.
This was the first game of the season. Against one of the worst teams in the FCS. With a bye-week now before the FBS schedule starts at Bowling Green.
This was a guaranteed win. Really the only such game of the entire schedule. The rest of the pre-conference schedule includes games against MAC favorite Bowling Green, Conference USA favorite North Texas and at #24 ranked Missouri. Why show those teams more of the playbook than necessary? For a coaching staff that has to find some way to make a bowl game, this week’s game was all about setting the squad up for more wins down the road.
Petty football teams with petty goals get excited about blowing out the cupcakes on their schedule. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the Hoosiers beat the Sycamores by 1 or 100. At the end of the day it counts as one win, and the Hoosiers need five more if they want to make the post-season.
So what can we take away from this game?
Earlier this week, I argued that last year’s Indiana State game told us everything we needed to know about the 2013 season, and suggested that this year’s game could do the same. Let’s take a look back at those “Keys to the Game” and grade the Hoosiers on their performance:
1. 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.
Although the Hoosiers intentionally refrained from airing the ball out in their usual fashion, Sudfeld seemed to struggle mightily when he was called upon to pass. I don’t know the percentage of passing plays that ended with #7 scrambling for a yard, but it seemed to happen every other time he dropped back. The offensive line provided plenty of time, so, were the receivers unable to get open or was Nate off on his reads? While those of us at home weren’t able to see the whole picture (literally), the commentators seemed to indicate that the onus was on Sudfeld. Most importantly, Nate wasn’t able to buck his habit of throwing costly interceptions. Today’s interception included a long return and set the Sycamores up for the only touchdown of the day. Exactly the kind of play we didn’t want to see.
2. 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.
Sitting in your living room, you could almost hear the collective wailing and gnashing of teeth from Hoosier Nation as the Sycamores easily marched down the field on the first series for the “new” Indiana defense. The unit definitely left plenty of room for improvement. Open field tackles were missed, players looked confused at times and defensive backs allowed some easy completions. But, as we said, we are concerned about the bottom line here, and the Hoosier defense accomplished goal 1A as they held the Sycamores to just 170 yards of total offense. Quite an improvement from giving up 306 yards in last year’s game.
3. 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).
Wow. Tevin Coleman DID NOT disappoint. Devine Redding and Myles Graham saw some valuable minutes, but it was Bloomington native and senior D’Angelo Roberts who stepped up to the plate. Roberts showed excellent patience waiting for holes to open on his way to a 129 yard afternoon. We knew Coleman would dominate, but we also got the stellar performance from a backup that we were looking to see.
4. 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.
The only quarterback other than Sudfeld who entered the game for the Hoosiers was true freshman Chris Covington. If you’re asking yourself “who the French Toast is Chris Covington!?” you’re not alone.
Covington is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart and ran the final play of the game. No clue where that came from. He’s certainly athletic and played QB in high school. Is it possible Wilson plans to use him in running situations? Who knows, but if that was the case why ruin the surprise on the final play of the game. Overall, Indiana never built a lead, Sudfeld himself never looked in sync and so, of course, we didn’t see any of the backups get experience. That’s not going to help put fans at ease, especially considering how often Nate took off running today. Scary stuff.
One Win Down, Five (at least) to Go:
In the end, it was a sloppy, boring and atypical season opener for the Hoosiers. It’s understandable that the coaches wouldn’t want to reveal too much of the playbook, but Sudfeld’s play is definitely cause for concern. There were tangible improvements on defense, the team showed a ton of depth and a few freshman showed they are going to have major roles this year (Simmie Simmie Ya). The Hoosiers have a lot to work on, and they have two weeks to do it before fans really see what this year’s team is going to be about against Bowling Green. As we all know, it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.