The Indiana offense is apparently doing everything in its power to deliver the program’s first winning season since 2007.
Last year, for example, the Hoosiers produced the Big Ten’s only pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Jordan Howard, Devine Redding). They also claimed team conference titles with total offense (504.3 yards per game), scoring offense (36.5 points per outing) and yards per completion (Nate Sudfeld, 14.47).
Also, citing the last four seasons from 2012 through 2015, Indiana has averaged 30-plus points three times.
And of the last three years, when facing only Big Ten opponents, the Hoosiers averaged at least 35 points twice.
The only other conference team to pull off the feat during that span was Ohio State.
So, what can we expect from the 2016 Hoosiers, knowing that three big pieces – Sudfeld, Howard and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs – are all off to the NFL? Look what the Hoosiers are losing:
Sudfeld is the school’s all-time passing leader who had four straight seasons of 60-percent-plus passing);
Howard rushed for 1,319 total yards, 10 TDs despite missing four games and just about all of another one due to injury.
Spriggs was the star of a solid group of offensive lineman, getting drafted in the second-round by the Green Bay Packers.
How will they move on from last year’s 6-7 squad that ended the season with a controversial bowl defeat to Duke?
Land Of 10 offers a “Buy Or Sell” look at Indiana’s chances of repeating the Big Ten crowns with scoring offense and total offense:
Redding was one of college football’s most prominent backups last season, finishing fifth in Big Ten rushing yards (1,012) and becoming a star in his own right after Howard went down.
For the year, Redding averaged a robust 4.5 yards per carry — although it was a far cry from Howard’s stupendous 6.2 yards per rush. That figure escalated in November, with Redding racking up 401 rushing yards and two TDs in his final three outings.
The reason for the spike in production? After Howard went down to injury for the second time against Maryland, Redding subsequently averaged 27 carries for the final three games, highlighted by a season-high 35 rushes in the Pinstripe Bowl, where he gained 227 yards and scored a touchdown.
Just for kicks, let’s extrapolate Redding’s monster three-game sample size over a full season, now that Howard plays for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. It’s a per-outing average of 27 carries and 134 yards, which equates to a 12-game total of 324 carries and 2,144 rushing yards. In essence, we’re talking about the respective neighborhoods of Big Ten rushing champions and Heisman Trophy finalists.
Why bring this up now?
- Howard and Redding combined for 2,225 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
- Citing 2014 and 2015, the Hoosiers’ last two primary rushers (Tevin Coleman, Howard) averaged 1,625 rushing yards and 13 TDs in their respective final campaigns. Given the above numbers, we might be minimizing Redding by predicting a range of 1,400-plus yards in 2016.
From a scoring perspective, Redding – who compares favorably in style to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ DeAngelo Williams – also tallied multiple touchdowns three times last season against Southern Illinois, Ohio State and Rutgers.
Without question, new Indiana QB Richard Lagow (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) has drawn the short straw on being the next-man-up replacement to Sudfeld (7,879 yards passing, 69 total TDs).
But it’s also an opportunity for immediate growth, given Lagow’s unfettered access to Indiana’s top three receiving playmakers from last season — receivers Simmie Cobbs Jr. (60 catches, 1,035 yards, 4 TDs in 2015), Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige (57 catches, 684 yards, 6 TDs).
Indiana also returns a rock-solid nucleus along the offensive line, including left guard Wes Martin, right tackle Dimitric Camiel and mammoth right guard Dan Feeney.
Regarding the wideouts, Cobbs averaged 5.6 catches and 103 yards in his final seven outings — and that includes a 20-yard clunker against Iowa. Jones took a huge step forward in 2015, emerging from obscurity to collect 54 receptions, 906 yards and five touchdowns. He had only 60 combined yards as a freshman/sophomore.
On the coaching front, Kevin Wilson has earned the reputation of being a so-called quarterback whisperer during his time at Northwestern and Oklahoma as an offensive coordinator and as Indiana’s head coach since 2011. This could help Lagow — a 3-star recruit from Texas (source: 247 Sports) — develop into the Hoosiers’ next long-term passing option.
KEVIN WILSON QB PROTEGES
2001: Zak Kustok (Northwestern) — 2,692 yards passing, 31 total TDs
2003-04: Jason White (Oklahoma) — 7,051 combined passing yards, 75 passing TDs
2006: Paul Thompson (Oklahoma) — 2,667 yards passing, 25 total TDs
2007-08: Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) — 7,891 combined passing yards, 86 passing TDs
2010: Landry Jones (Oklahoma) — 4,718 yards passing, 38 passing TDs
Indiana’s 2016 schedule offers a full spectrum of choices regarding defensive proficiency.
Six opponents (Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan State, Wake Forest) ranked in the top 40 with total defense last season.
On the flip side, six opponents ranked in the bottom 50 of total defense last year, with Purdue, Rutgers and Ball State headlining the cluster of cellar-dwelling defenses.
And with scoring defense, four of the Hoosiers’ 2016 opponents (Maryland, Rutgers, Ball State, Purdue) ranked among the bottom 25 last year, surrendering at least 34 points per game.
There’s one more thing to consider: Indiana’s own defense ranked in the bottom nationally with total defense (120th overall out of 128 teams) and scoring defense (116th overall).
In other words, history suggests — no, dictates — the Hoosiers will be involved in a large handful of high-scoring games this fall.
For Indiana leading the Big Ten in total offense: SELL
For Indiana leading the Big Ten in scoring offense: BUY
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.