Indiana went to a bowl game last season, but still made a coaching change, as defensive coordinator Tom Allen has replaced Kevin Wilson, who was fired, as head coach. Allen got the job in part for the Hoosiers’ significant improvement on defense. That unit returns nine starters and features one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers. Allen will be changing Indiana’s offensive approach, which could put more pressure on the quarterback given the uncertainty in the backfield. The Hoosiers’ defense should be able to guide this team back to the postseason, unless the offense fails to come together.
Previewing Indiana Football’s Offense for 2017
Personnel won’t be the primary question for the Hoosiers, even with uncertainty at running back and the offensive line. Adjustment to a new scheme is the situation to watch. After six seasons of mostly prolific production and back-to-back bowl games, Kevin Wilson was dismissed after the season because of philosophical differences with athletic director Fred Glass. Tom Allen, the team’s defensive coordinator for only one season, is the rookie head coach. Allen has entrusted the offense to Mike DeBord, a veteran coordinator whose offense averaged 36.4 points and 443.7 yards per game at Tennessee last season. Those numbers were better than Indiana’s 25.8 and 426 in 2016.
DeBord is unlikely to play as fast or as wide open as Wilson. His first task is getting quarterback Richard Lagow to eliminate mistakes. Although he threw for nearly 3,400 yards, Lagow had 17 picks and completed less than 58 percent of his throws. His interceptions cost IU wins against Wake Forest and Nebraska. If DeBord prefers mobility, Peyton Ramsey will be the guy.
For the third straight season, IU lost a running back to the NFL as an underclassman. Camion Patrick, a converted receiver, was expected to take on a major role in the backfield. However, the school announced in mid-July Patrick would retire due to injuries. Look for a committee approach featuring Mike Majette and Cole Gest. Receiver is Indiana’s strongest offensive position with Nick Westbrook, Simmie Cobbs (back from injury) and the improving Donavan Hale.
Tackle Coy Cronk will anchor a rebuilding offensive line that will be under the tutelage of Darren Hiller after Greg Frey departed for the same job at Michigan.
Previewing Indiana Football’s Defense for 2017
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Allen earned the job because of the substantial improvement of IU’s defense. A year after the Hoosiers ranked last in the league while allowing nearly 510 yards per game, the Hoosiers limited opponents to 380, ranking ninth in the Big Ten. Nine starters return.
The Hoosiers must improve their pass rush. Tackle Nate Hoff and end Greg Gooch are solid against the run, but Nile Sykes emerged as a powerful pass rusher, contributing five sacks. Tegray Scales is one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, a formidable tackler who led the team with 23.5 tackles for a loss. Marcelino Ball started every game as a freshman at the hybrid linebacker/safety position that is the trademark of Allen’s 4-2-5 alignment. Marcus Oliver, a three-year starter at linebacker, will likely be replaced by Chris Covington, who started his career at quarterback.
Indiana’s biggest improvement last season came in the secondary, where every starter returns, led by senior Rashard Fant, who intercepted three passes and broke up 17.
Previewing Indiana Football’s Specialists for 2017
Allen believes the Hoosiers can close the talent gap against more powerful rivals with improved special teams play, and he backed up his belief by upgrading personnel, signing Haydon Whitehead from the ProKick program in Australia to improve the punting. After making 24-of-29 kicks in 2015, placekicker Griffin Oakes missed 10 of his 26 attempts in 2016, which cost IU in several defeats. Devonte Williams will return kickoffs again, but Mitchell Paige must be replaced as the punt returner.
Wilson’s offense made Indiana competitive in nearly every game the last two seasons. With a new scheme, unproven running backs and several holes on the offensive line, the Hoosiers need Lagow to stop throwing interceptions while developing a solid running back. But the defense is formidable, faster and confident. Indiana should be able to hold its spot ahead of Maryland and Rutgers in the rugged Big Ten East.