Indiana is undefeated so far in 2015, as you’ve probably heard by now.
The Hoosiers probably will not be able to make that claim beyond this weekend, but they are set up to have one of the best seasons they have had in a long time since they already have four wins and still have some of the Big Ten’s weaker teams on the schedule.
Head coach Kevin Wilson, after weathering an injury-plagued 2014 campaign, has come back to mold another very good offense built around a good senior quarterback and a veteran running back.
Of course both of them benefit from what is a pretty good offensive line that is experienced, fairly mobile and works well together.
The quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, is back from a shoulder injury (non-throwing) that knocked him out for the second half of last season. He is not a world-beater, but he’s a big, strong guy with decent mobility who can drop back, survey the field and spread the ball around. He’s got a good arm, and made a surprisingly accurate throw on the run for a touchdown last week as the Hoosiers beat Wake Forest.
Sudfeld is good at reading the defense and making quick decisions, getting the ball to the right place for solid gains on a regular basis thanks to the nature of the Hoosiers’ spread offense that presents multiple pressure points for a defense across the field.
His loss really hamstrung the offense last season because it was also a down year for the receivers, who were mostly new and not in any place to pick up for the new quarterback. This year the receivers group looks much more solid with a handful of reliable targets. Ricky Jones is a small receiver with good speed who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards through four weeks. The bigger threat might be Simmie Cobss, a 6-4 sophomore who presents more matchup problems. It remains to be seen if either of them or slot receiver Mitchell Paige is a real big-play threat against a good defense.
After being a nonfactor last season, Indiana’s tight ends have turned into solid contributors both in the run game and the passing game. This is key in both cases because it adds a lot more options when some of their primary methods of attack get shut down.
While getting Sudfeld back was essential, the offense likely would not be where it is without transfer Jordan Howard. A 230-pound back with good quickness and cutting ability for his size, Howard is a chain-mover who does not make a lot of guys miss but has good vision and will get every yard that is out there. He fits their mostly zone blocking scheme very well and reminds me of a younger Carlos Hyde before Hyde become a more versatile runner toward the end of his career. He hasn’t shown he can go the distance with regularity like Tevin Coleman, but Howard will pound the ball inside and on the edges, and that helps them stay on schedule.
Devine Redding of Cleveland Glenville is only about 200 pounds but provides a good change-up to Howard. He’s more of a slasher than a speed or power back.
Defensively, Indiana is pretty much a disaster. That might have come as a surprise to someone last December, but it is understandable given what happened since then as a returning starter at corner left via graduate transfer and a safety who was to be their leading tackler among returnees was kicked off the team after being arrested during the summer. On top of that, Indiana’s best defensive lineman has been in trouble as well.
Wilson has said he likes the skill of his freshmen cornerbacks and receivers, but they aren’t there yet. They have made some plays to end drives, but overall I see a team that struggles with tackling and fits once you break through what is a pretty good defensive line and solid corps of linebackers. They depend on timely turnovers.
Defensive tackle Darius Latham, who was just suspended for the second time this season, is a big loss as he is the best the Hoosiers have up front at creating havoc on his own. Ralph Green III has shown flashes at times in the past, and Adarius Rayner and Nate Hoff have also proven to be solid players.
End Nick Mangieri is also a productive player on the front line who flashed some pass rush ability last week at Wake Forest.
The Hoosiers call their defense a 3-4, but as Urban Meyer pointed out this week, they’ve really aligned in more of a four-man front as the season has gone on. That includes “Bandit” end/linebacker Zack Shaw in a standup position on the line. They also have a nickel package with a 30-front (as everyone seems to these days).
T.J. Simmons, Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton give them a solid group of linebackers who can run and tackle but have shown some vulnerability in coverage.
Wilson admitted during the summer his team doesn’t have many guys who can rush the passer individually, so they had to make a choice about how much they wanted to risk to generate pressure artificially.
Given Ohio State’s noted troubles with odd fronts, it would not be surprising to see Indiana come with that and try to get exotic (what Meyer has termed “junk defenses” earlier this season) in order to try to make things happen because that is probably their best shot at success this week.
All in all, this should be a good test for Ohio State that the Buckeyes are more than prepared to ace. Indiana brings enough to the table to get noticed on film, and I suspect they will move the ball and put up some points but have a hard time keeping up when all is said and done.