Maryland takes on Indiana Oct. 29 in Bloomington, Ind., and to gain more insight into the Hoosiers we spoke to Peegs.com analyst Matt Weaver. Our question-and-answer session is below:
Terrapin Times: It looks like IU has had a lot of issues on offense with Richard Lagow throwing picks, a suspect offensive line and not much consistency in the running game, not to mention some shaky play calling. What has to change for Indiana to establish an offensive identity and can they right the ship?
Matt Weaver: The biggest thing that needs to improve is the offensive line. I think getting Dan Feeney back will go a long way towards making that happen. Feeney is arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the Big Ten, and one of the best in the nation, and not having him has obviously been tough to overcome for the IU O-line, especially with the season-ending loss of fifth-year senior right tackle Dimitric Camiel. Losing the entire right side of the offensive line is tough enough to deal with, but when both of those players are NFL caliber prospects and the two best linemen on the team it is that much more difficult to compensate for.
At quarterback Richard Lagow needs to play better, but when the offense is one-dimensional and the defense knows that it makes throwing the ball effectively pretty tough to do. Lagow is a talented QB, but he is still learning how to play at this level and he is doing it against some of the best defenses in the nation. In four of their last five games the Hoosiers have faced the No. 5, No. 21, No. 50 and No. 54 ranked defenses in the country. They need to pick it up on offense, but they are also facing some pretty good defensive units with some key players out so the struggles are not totally unexpected.
TT: Similar question as the first, but this time for the defensive side. It looks like the Hoosiers' defense has made some plays, but has also been prone to giving up yards and points too. What's gone wrong defensively and what needs to change?
MW: I’m not sure that I would agree that the defense has been prone to giving up points and yards, and I wouldn’t say that things have going wrong defensively. Indiana does not have an elite level defense, but it has played pretty well for most of the season, and it has certainly been good enough for this team to have a better record than it currently has. New defensive coordinator Tom Allen has made a significant impact on the Indiana defense. The Hoosiers have made a great deal of improvement in almost every defensive category from last season to this season. They are number one in the nation when it comes to the improvement they've made in total defense, they are second in the nation when it comes to the improvement they've made in pass defense, and they are fifth in the nation when it comes to the improvement they've made in scoring defense. IU is also in the top 20 nationally when it comes to the improvement they've made in completion percentage against them, third down conversions against them, and passing efficiency by opposing quarterbacks, and they are 33rd nationally in the improvement they've made defending the run.
Since Kevin Wilson took over the IU program in 2011 the IU defense has never ranked higher than 11th in the conference in total defense, and they have never ranked higher than 13th in scoring defense. This season they are 8th in total defense and 9th in scoring defense. If you count just conference games they are still 8th in total defense and 9th in scoring defense and they have done that facing the number 2, number 3, number 4 and number 5 offenses in the Big Ten when you look at just conference statistics. And the points per game they have given up is a little skewed because it counts scores made by the opposing team’s defense on a pick six, or a special teams score, or when the offense turns it over deep in their own territory and the opposing offense has a very short field to travel to get a score. None of those situations are the fault of the defense, and the Indiana offense and special teams unit are either directly or indirectly responsible for 35 of the 155 total points the Hoosiers have given up this season. 120 points in seven games is pretty solid work for a defense, especially when you look at some of the offenses IU has played so far this year.
No matter how you examine it the Indiana defense has been a very pleasant surprise, and it has been a unit that has more then held their own this season. As I said, it is not an elite defense, but it has done a very respectable job, and with any offensive production at all in the last few games IU would be coming into this game with five or six wins instead of the three they have. I think the better question is what has gone right defensively. The answer is this defense is much more sound and they don’t have the breakdowns they have been prone to the last several years. The belief and trust that Coach Allen has instilled in the players is very noticeable, and it is showing up in their play on Saturday.
I think the biggest issue the defense has is getting pressure on the opposing QB. Too many times they have trouble generating a pass rush with only their front four which forces them to have to blitz more than they would probably like to and that can lead to some big plays if you don’t get to the QB.
TT: With all the self-inflicted wounds of late, what's the mindset of the players and coaches right now? Has there been a lot of finger pointing and is coach Kevin Wilson taking any heat?
MW: I haven’t really noticed any finger pointing. This is a pretty tight-knit team that gets along well. Does that mean there are never any issues? Probably not, but every team in America is going to have some disagreements over the course of a 12-game season. The coaches and players are obviously disappointed in how the last three weeks have gone, but they are also still very confident and believe they can still have a successful season.
I think with any fans there are some who complain when things aren’t going well, but I think the majority realize that even with the disappointing last three or four weeks the team has endured this program is headed in the right direction.
I don’t think Coach Wilson is taking any more heat than any other coach would be getting in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Not every call he has made has been the right one, but as I said above, when you are down a number of key players on offense it has a big impact on what your game plan is, and also what plays you feel comfortable running.
TT: How does the Indiana fan base view a team like Maryland coming in? Do they still see the Terps as more of a basketball school? Is there any intrigue surrounding this game for them?
MW: I think the fans see Maryland as a team that IU should be very competitive with, and it is a game that they probably need to win if they want to get to six wins and another bowl game. Maryland is still a relatively new member of the Big Ten so I think IU fans are still learning about them.
The other factor about this game is basketball practice has started so a good deal of the fan base is starting to turn their attention to that program. That usually happens this time of the year regardless of how the football program is doing, but the losing streak the football team is currently on has not helped with fan interest.
I think the biggest intrigue from Indiana’s point of view is that with five games left and three wins still needed for bowl eligibility this is a huge game for IU. Of the five remaining games they have left there is one – at Michigan – that will be extremely difficult to win no matter how well they play. That basically leaves four games to get three wins and if they lose this week their backs are really against the wall.
TT: If Indiana is going to get its season back on track, who are the "X factors" or key playmakers, on offense and defense, who have to step up to get the job done?
MW: On offense the key players are quarterback Richard Lagow and the run game. Lagow has to play better than he did at Northwestern when he missed some wide-open receivers and failed to capitalize on several opportunities to make big plays. The run game needs to get going which means the O-line has to play better and the running backs have to take advantage when there are chances to pop a big run. If IU can run the ball more effectively and Lagow plays like he has at certain parts of the season they should have a good shot to win on Saturday, but if they continue to bog down it could be another long day.
On defense the key is stopping the Maryland rushing attack which means the defensive line and linebackers have to play well. The Terrapins have done very well this season running the ball and for IU to be in position to win this game the Hoosiers must slow down the Maryland running game. Guys like defensive linemen Ralph Green and Nate Hoof have to play well, and so do linebackers Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales.
TT: The Hoosiers have two young players who at one time were committed to Maryland, Mike Majette and Jameel Cook. How have they done so far, and how do their futures look in Bloomington, Ind.?
MW: Mike Majette is the number two running back for the Hoosiers. He has been solid this season but maybe not as productive as many thought he might be. Once again, a big reason for that is the issues with the O-line and the struggles with the run game which in turn has had a negative effect on the play of Majette. He is such an explosive player that is very tough to defend once he gets to the second level. Unfortunately for the IU offense they have not been able to get him out in space as much as they were probably hoping to. I think the future is still bright for him, especially if they can get the ball in his hands a little more than they have so far.
Jameel Cook has pretty much been a non-factor all season. I am not sure I can recall the last time he played in a game. I believe he played in the season opener at FIU, but I don’t think he has played since. I am not sure if there is injury issue with him, or if it is something else. He was a guy I thought would be in the mix for playing time before the season so his lack of playing time has been a surprise for me. It could be an injury deal, but like many programs Indiana is very tight-lipped when it comes to discussing player injuries so I am not sure if that is the reason or not. I still like his future prospects at Indiana, but his lack of playing time this fall has been a little baffling if there is no injury issue with him.