Bloomington, Ind. – It's been a fast spring practice season for IU Coach Terry Hoeppner in more ways than one.
Thursday's 14th practice session – which was played in sunny, 80 degree temperatures at Memorial Stadium – marked the Hoosiers' next-to-last practice of the spring and their final tune-up for Saturday's Cream and Crimson game.
"I wish we had more spring practices," Hoeppner said Thursday.
But the last four weeks have also been fast in regards to what Hoeppner has seen on the field. Due to the addition of some very talented and fleet-footed redshirt freshmen to the two-deep and a defensive scheme change, the team's speed has been significantly upgraded.
Hoeppner said that was obvious to his wife, Jane, after the team's first spring practice last month.
"That was her observation from the very first practice," Hoeppner said. "I had her get up in front of the team and say, ‘what was your observation after one practice,' and she said, ‘faster.' And we are – we're a faster football team."
Some of that speed was put on display Thursday, courtesy the running game and the passing game. During 11-on-11 work Marcus Thigpen broke free up the middle, made a defender miss, and couldn't be caught from behind for a long touchdown run. Later on during the day, freshman wide receiver Terrance Turner got behind Hoosier cornerback Chris Phillips during two-minute drill work and hauled in a 55-yard touchdown pass – a score that wasn't finalized until Turner recovered his own fumble in the end zone.
The contributions of newcomers like running back Demetrius McCray and defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Neal Jones also figure to make IU a faster team on the field, as will a defensive scheme change that has safeties Aaron Mitchell and Dan Kinsey playing in the box as an outside linebacker on the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses, respectively.
"Coming from Miami, I said the Big Ten is the deep water with the big fish," Hoeppner said. "But in reality, it's the deep, deep water with the big, big fish that swim fast, fast, fast. We need to be able to swim faster in this deep water. I think we've taken a quantum leap in that direction."
Fans will get a chance to witness the new look Hoosiers Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Cream and Crimson game. That game will serve as a chance for Hoosier fans to get a look at what's in store for the fall, but it's also an opportunity for Hoeppner to see how the players respond to game-type situations.
"I know some places view it as another practice opportunity, but I think it is special," Hoeppner said. "The coach, whatever position it is, isn't in the player's ear right before he goes to the line of scrimmage reminding him of what he's supposed to do on a particular play."
That can be very revealing, according to Hoeppner.
"Can they go play?" Hoeppner said. "Can we throw them out in the water and can they swim without us? You see things in a game situation like this."
The second-year coach is also hoping that he's seeing more big plays on both sides of the ball Saturday, and that they're a result of players making plays instead of people making mistakes.
"What we're looking for at this point is execution," Hoeppner said. "Whoever makes a play, they did it not because the other team blew an assignment but because they made a play in the context of the offense or defense. You can't go around trying to make plays or you'll end up doing nothing."
- Saturday's scrimmage will feature four 12-minute quarters with a 12-minute halftime. There won't be kickoffs during the scrimmage, but otherwise everything will be like a normal game, with field goals, extra points and punts. At the start of halves and after scoring plays, the other team will start its drive at its own 35-yard line.
One twist Hoeppner has added for the scrimmage is that in the fourth quarter, if the trailing team scores and is still trailing by eight or more points, they will retain the ball and start another drive from its 35-yard line.
"We want to make it exciting," Hoeppner said.
- One of the big questions this spring has been the kicking game, which has been inconsistent at best. Kevin Trulock and Austin Starr appear to be the two players battling for the placekicking job, as Joe Kleinsmith has played exclusively at cornerback this spring.
According to Hoeppner, one of the reasons for some of the struggles has been the absence of a player who is often overlooked – the long snapper.
"One of the missing parts to the puzzle is Tim Bugg," Hoeppner said. "Tim Bugg (tore) an ACL during the season last year, and he is an outstanding snapper. You'd like to be working with him for the timing and for the execution.
"As a punter, you want the ball to be right here and then you can go execute your thing instead of being on defense like a goalie and seeing where that snap is going to be. On extra points and field goals that snap has to be here so the holder can get it down. We've been inconsistent. It's forced us to develop some depth at the position. But Tim Bugg is going to be our snapper."
- Thursday's practice featured position work, followed by 7-on-7 passing and then 11-on-11. The day ended with work on the two-minute drill, with the No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense going against the No. 2 defense. Each offensive unit started its drive at its own 45-yard line with two minutes on the clock and one timeout.
After opening its drive with a 15-yard run by McCray, the No. 1 offense was stopped on its next three plays to presumably end its drive. Hoeppner, though, gave the unit a first down at the defense's 30, and the offense moved the ball to the eight-yard line, leading to a Kevin Trulock 28-yard field goal as time expired.
The No. 2 offense, meanwhile, was able to put points on the board as well. Graeme McFarland hooked up with Terrance Turner for a 55-yard touchdown pass on the unit's first play of the drive. Hoeppner then moved the ball to the defense's 20-yard line to see if the unit could score again. The No. 2s drive stalled at the 11, setting up a 4th-and-1 at the 11. Hoeppner then went to the crowd and looked for input whether the offense should kick the field goal for a tie, or go for it on fourth down to try to move the chains.
Hoeppner asked former Hoosier player Vic Malinovsky, and Malinovsky said to kick the field goal. While Malinovsky's decision wasn't well received by the Hoosiers' offensive players, Austin Starr converted a 28-yard field goal to conclude the day's practice.
Thursday Spring Practice Report
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