Bloomington, Ind. – For every good there has to be a bad when it comes to intra-squad scrimmages and the Indiana Hoosier football team made that apparent after capping off the spring practice season with the Cream and Crimson spring game.
The good news for Indiana Coach Terry Hoeppner was watching his passing attack take flight for 659 yards without leading receiver James Hardy in the lineup. The bad news was watching his defense give up big play after big play, including four touchdown passes of 60 yards or more.
"The defense had been playing really well," said Hoeppner. "If you would have told me the score was going to be 31-27, I would have been surprised because the defense has been very stingy.
"I'm optimistic that the defense will be much improved from where it was last fall. The errors we made today are correctable errors."
Blake Powers and Graeme McFarland each was able to beat their defensive counterparts with the long ball. Powers had three touchdown passes of 60 yards or more, including an 84-yard game-winning pass to James Bailey, while McFarland had a 65-yard touchdown toss to Chris Banks. Those numbers may look good to the quarterbacks, but not to the secondary.
"It was the spring game so we were looking for some big plays," said junior cornerback Tracy Porter. "We just came out and tried to have fun and execute. They did a lot of throwing out there and we'll have to address what went wrong in the next film session."
The secondary had to work without fifth-year senior safety Troy Grosfield, who missed the spring while recovering from a knee injury. In his absence the Hoosiers have been able to see more of Aaron Mitchell, Eric McClurg and Austin Thomas with the first and second string defenses.
"Grosfield's injury is a big one because he is such a great player for us," said Porter. "But at the same time we have a lot of talent stepping up. Austin Thomas is stepping up tremendously as a freshman.
"(Today's) been a step back but it will help our younger guys."
Getting extra reps for the younger players now should help the Hoosiers later. With a group of upperclassmen in Porter, Grosfield, junior corner Leslie Majors and senior safety Will Meyers the Hoosiers should see little change in the lineup when next season kicks off.
"We're an experienced group," said Porter. "We have the chemistry that you need. We know what each person is capable of and when to help. That's going to help us out a lot as the season goes."
The Hoosiers know one spring scrimmage will not make or break next season, but an entire spring of quality practices can help. Ending the spring on a bad note for the secondary will not negate the progress they made this spring.
"I thought we had a great spring overall," said Porter. "Except for those few plays today, for the most part we did great. We really worked on stopping the run, we just have to work on that deep ball technique. We'll watch film, the coaches will address it and we'll have that taken care of before the season starts."
With the Crimson squad giving up 362 yards through the air and the Cream another 297, the game looked like an offensive shootout. However, take away the four deep passes for touchdowns and 285 yards disappear from the statline. Combine that with 80 yards rushing from the Crimson and just nine yards on the ground for the Cream, and the Hoosier defense showed promise.
"I wanted execution on both sides of the ball," said Hoeppner. "I think for the most part it wasn't horrible play by the defense. I think it was some really great throws and catches by the guys on offense. Overall, though, we're much improved than where we were on day one."
Lucky for Hoeppner and his defense they will have a summer to improve their weaknesses and get ready for the Sept. 2nd home opener when Central Michigan comes to Memorial Stadium.
"We're just going to try to do what we know we can do," said Porter. "We know the coaches will put us in the position they can to help us win and from there it's on us. We want to have a big year, but at the same time we're not going to over-analyze anything. We're going to take it all one game at a time."
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