Something is going to have to change offensively on Saturday if Indiana plans on making a bowl game this season.
A quick pace is not the best offensive strategy for this year’s team. Last season, with IU’s poor defense, Wilson's up-tempo offense was a necessity to stay in some games. The defense was awful, so the Hoosiers needed the fast-paced offense to tire out the opponent’s defense, resulting in shootouts that the Indiana offense was good enough to stay in.
This year that offensive confidence just isn’t there. However, the Missouri upset proved that the defensive improvements are enough to allow for Indiana to win a dogfight. There is no reason for the offense to go so quick when it clearly isn’t working. The defense is good enough that it can allow for the offense to slow things down and make sure they call the right play, but Head Coach Kevin Wilson seems more focused on being up-tempo.
Another problem with the offense is how one-dimensional it has been. Even though Tevin Coleman is the top player on the IU offense, as well as one of the top-3 backs in the conference, they rely too heavily on him. Sudfeld will need to get in sync with his wide receivers going forward, and this Saturday is the week it must get done. You can’t go into Iowa still not having figured out the passing game.
In order to get things rolling through the air on Saturday, a wide receiver needs to step up and make plays. The biggest question mark coming out of spring practice was replacing Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes this season, and IU has yet to find one.
There are a few options to look at to step up against North Texas. The first is senior Nick Stoner, who has seen his fair share of chances, but he and Sudfeld have missed quite a few opportunities on deep balls. Stoner is a straight-up-the-field runner and relies on beating guys on the fly, but he doesn’t show the ability to go up and get jump balls, something that Hughes and Latimer excelled at last season. The other two starting receivers are Shane Wynn and true freshman J-Shun Harris, both of which measure in under 5-foot-9. While those two are the biggest playmakers at the receiver spot for the Hoosiers, size makes for a problem.
Enter a pair of true freshmen, Simmie Cobbs and Dominique Booth, who possess heights of 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-1, respectively. One of these two receivers will need to step up on the outside for IU. They both have the potential to be great receivers in the future, and I believe that the mixture of those two and Harris will make for a phenomenal receiver corps in the coming years, but until one of these two takes that next step, the Indiana passing game will continue to sputter.
Another under-the-radar possibility is Jordan Fuchs, a true freshman tight end. Fuchs is a solid pass catcher, and in fall camp he showed good ball skills and a natural feel for route running. So far, he hasn’t been given many opportunities in the passing game, and I will be interested to see if he gets a few chances on Saturday. The tight end position is averaging less than one catch per game on the season, so finding a threat down the middle of the field could help open up opportunities on the outside.
Now, back to Coleman. Against Maryland, Coleman had his worst outing of the year. Not that it was all that bad, as he rushed for 122 yards and one touchdown on 22 attempts, but it was still across the board his worst statistically. The Terps were able to pack the box all afternoon, forcing Sudfeld to make plays on the outside. He wasn’t able to do that, although the opportunities were there. A couple of over thrown balls to go along with a few dropped passes resulted in a 37.8 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 61.0. Until Sudfeld and the receivers can get on the same page and force opponents to bring a guy out of the box, the holes will continue to not be there for Coleman.
The most discouraging part of the offense is the lack of comfort from Sudfeld. You have to wonder if the departure of quarterback Tre Roberson has changed Sudfeld’s mental approach to the game. For the first time, Sudfeld doesn’t have another guy breathing down his neck, and there is no longer that likelihood that he will be replaced after two three-and-outs in a row. Some of Sudfeld’s struggles could be the result of little competition behind him.
Here is a video that AllHoosiers.com's Sarah Beeson shot of Sudfeld earlier this week.
North Texas is a must win for the Hoosiers, and the offense will need to show more consistency through the entire game. Travelling to Iowa without finding a rhythm will make things difficult, and losing the first two conference games will be a big blow for this team. The season is far from over, and I think Indiana still has the ability to go 7-5. In order for that to happen, victories at Iowa and Michigan in the coming weeks will be a necessity. That can’t be done if things aren’t figured out offensively on Saturday.
You can follow Ben Faunce on twitter @ben_faunce.???