BLOOMINGTON-It was a strenuous four months for Coach Terry Hoeppner's staff.
From the close of spring practice on April 15 to the start of camp on Aug. 8, the first-year coach hadn't seen much from the two players battling for the starting quarterback job, sophomore Blake Powers and junior Graeme McFarland. That's because NCAA rules prohibit coaches from participating or witnessing informal summer workouts, meaning Hoeppner would have to wait until fall camp to see what sort of progress had had been made at the most critical of positions.
"(Blake Powers) was a guy, along with Graeme McFarland that I was anxious to see what sort of progress they had made," Hoeppner said Saturday at IU's media day event.
Adding to Hoeppner's angst was the fact that the two quarterbacks had been up-and-down, at best, during spring drills. Much of that was due to the fact that they were learning a new offense and the team was decimated at wide receiver by both injuries and graduation, but there was reason for concern nonetheless.
But with the season opener now less than two weeks away, Hoeppner says he feels a whole lot better about the position than he did four months ago. That's due in large part to the amount of work that both Powers and McFarland put in during the summer months learning the system and getting familiar with the wideouts.
"The quarterbacks took some summer school classes and got good grades, but they both got an A for football this summer," said Hoeppner. "We needed to make a big jump from where they were in the spring, and they did that, in combination with the receivers. So that part was very encouraging. Both Blake and Graeme have played well (this fall). We're still in the learning stages, but we're getting better."
Those two quarterbacks, along with true freshman Kellen Lewis, had an opportunity to show IU fans that as well in front of approximately 500 fans on Saturday during a controlled scrimmage at Memorial Stadium. The scrimmage included 18 drives and gave the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 offensive and defensive units opportunities to go against each other.
While the three quarterbacks did throw a combined four interceptions, all three had statistically solid afternoons. Powers finished 7-10 for 96 yards including one touchdown and one interception, while McFarland 8-16 for 199 yards to go along with four touchdowns and one interception. After starting 3-for-11, McFarland finished his afternoon by completing his final five throws for 161 yards and two scores.
Lewis, meanwhile, finished 7-18 for 126 yards, including one touchdown and two interceptions.
Much of the attention was on Powers, though, who most expect to start the Sept. 2 opener at Central Michigan.
"Blake played well," said quarterbacks coach Matt Canada. "He under threw the one deep ball (that was intercepted) where he waited, and it was very clear cut what happened and he threw a pick there. It was a mistake, but he was wide open. Other than that, I thought he played well. It seemed like he had good command of the huddle and we were sharp time-wise."
Hoeppner was particularly pleased with how Powers bounced back from the early interception to have a good afternoon. After throwing the interception while leading the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense during the scrimmage's opening series, he came back to go 3-3 for 56 yards on the next series and led the No. 2 offense on a 6 play, 65-yard scoring drive against the No. 2 defense.
"I thought Blake had a really solid, productive day," said Hoeppner.
In the past, Hoeppner said Powers has had a tendency to get down on himself when he makes a mistake, and that in turn has led to more miscues. Powers said afterwards that he realizes that he's his own harshest critic, and believes he's been doing a better job of turning the page.
"Part of getting better is being able to move on (from mistakes)," said Powers. "I think I'm doing that now."
Hoeppner stopped short of officially naming Powers as the starter for the Sept. 2 opener against Central Michigan, but it's obvious that is the way that he is leaning.
"I'll let you know when I know," said Hoeppner. "I liked how we shared the quarterback time today by design…he goes out there first, and I would anticipate him going out there first for game one, but we've still got a little bit of time.
"I think we're improved at that position overall. I think we are so much better than we were in the spring," said Hoeppner. "With Blake and Graeme, with their grasp of the offense and their total understanding of the little things, it's so much better."
While Hoeppner has been pleased with the progress, he also knows that it needs to continue to get better before the Sept. 2 opener at Central Michigan arrives.
"We weren't a good drop-back passing team in the spring, and we're not great at it now," said Hoeppner, who also noted that he wants his quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of their passes this season. "We still need to throw it better."
A couple of things that figure to provide comfort to Powers or McFarland this fall is the presence of a veteran offensive line, anchored by senior left tackle Isaac Sowells and senior left guard Adam Hines. In addition, Hoeppner feels very good about the stable of running backs at his disposal as well. Senior Chris Taylor figures to get the bulk of the work, but fellow senior Yamar Washington and Josiah Sears are expected to be contributors out of the backfield as well.
"We're deep at running back, and not just in numbers – the quality is there, too," said Hoeppner.
It was the Hoosiers' No. 4 tailback who had the biggest afternoon statistically Saturday. Helped along by a 52-yard run up the gut on his first carry, Kenni Burns finished with 77 yards on eight carries, while No. 1 tailback Chris Taylor totaled 30 yards on eight carries. Yamar Washington, meanwhile, had a tough afternoon, finishing with 17 yards on seven carries, including back-to-back fumbles.
While there remain some concerns about the offense, Hoeppner feels very good about an Indiana defense that returns seven starters from a year ago.
"I think we are playing pretty good defense, and I think we are improving our quality depth there," said Hoeppner.
During Saturday's scrimmage, the No. 1 defense had a pair of interceptions on its first two series and then had a three-and-out on its third. Eventually both Kellen Lewis and McFarland would lead scoring drives against the No. 1 defense, but the unit created turnovers and flew around the field, which pleased Hoeppner. In all, the defense picked off four passes and forced two fumbles. Will Lumpkin ran one of the fumbles back for a touchdown, while safety Brandon Mosley returned an interception for a score as well.
"I've challenged our defense that we need to score 10 touchdowns on defense this year, and you saw that mentality today," said Hoeppner. "If we touch the ball, we're planning to score. We scored two, and probably set up some more."
One player who has stood out to Hoeppner is senior defensive end Victor Adeyanju, who tallied 9.5 tackles for loss a year ago.
"I'll tell you what – I'm glad he's on my side…I told (his dad) that he's the first guy off the bus because he'll scare half our opponents – ‘man, if the first guy looks like him, what do the rest of them look like?' Vic is the real deal," said Hoeppner.
But Adeyanju is just one of many players that Hoeppner thinks will cause fits for opponents on the 2005 schedule.
"Part of the problem (for the offense) is our defense," said Hoeppner. "I think it will be a good thing because when we come out of our locker room and turn left (toward the practice fields) it's going to be a long day because we have to play against our defense. If we turn right, we get to play somebody else, so we're looking forward to that day."
Rushing-Burns 8-77, Taylor 8-30, Washington 7-17, Lewis 4-20, Powers 2-13, Sears 7-12, Payton 2-8, McCray 1-2, Walker-Roby 1-2, Miles 2-1, Carrington 1-(-1), McFarland 1-0.
Passing-Powers 7-10-1 96, McFarland 8-16-1 199, Lewis 7-18-2 126, Haas 1-2-0 7.
Receiving-Gilmore 4-139, Bailey 3-69, Bennett 2-64, Thigpen 2-40, Burns 1-17, Sears 1-16, Welch 1-13, Faires 1-11, Washington 1-10, O'Neal 2-9, Walker-Roby 1-8, Payton 1-8, Banks 1-7, Taylor 1-5.
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