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HOOSIER FILM ROOM: Why Indiana has struggled on the goalline

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In this week’s film room, we take a look at why Indiana’s usually potent offense is struggling to punch it in from short distance.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Author’s Note: A quick tip of the cap to Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) who creates the GIFs used in each and every film room.

If the trend continues, the statistics will be discussed at length. Kevin Wilson’s Indiana Hoosiers, known the world over for their explosiveness, running prowess, ability to score on anyone, are just 12-for-18 (67%) in Red Zone Scoring. They are just 8-for-18 (44%) in Red Zone Touchdowns. As Kyle Swick noted in this week’s game preview, the Hoosiers are 121st out of 128 FBS teams in “Finishing Drives.”

Against Florida International, Indiana went 2-for-3 in the Red Zone, but scored just one touchdown in those three trips. Indiana was 2-for-2 against Ball State in the Red Zone, again scoring one touchdown. So, in the games where Dan Feeney has played, the Hoosiers are 4-for-5 in the Red Zone, with two touchdowns, two field goals, and one missed field goal.

In the other three contests, then, Indiana has gone 8-for-13 in the Red Zone, scoring just four touchdown on those 13 drives.

The reason? Well, there could be three reasons. First, Griffin Oakes has not been good since he was robbed of a game-tying field goal in the Bronx last December. (THE KICK WAS GOOD!) Second, Kevin Wilson seems to be slow to adapt to the fact that he finally has a good defense in Bloomington, meaning he’s still coaching like he has to score 45 or 50 points per game to win. And third, the interceptions Richard Lagow threw against Wake Forest seem to have reduced the size of the Red Zone playbook.

Against FIU, Ball State, and Wake Forest, Indiana’s Red Zone offense as balanced as you would expect from a team with a quarterback in his first three games at the helm. It was a little run heavy, but not to the point of futility.

But against Michigan State and Ohio State, while the underlying reason for the Red Zone struggles may not have been clear, the proximate cause was clear as day. Predictability.

Let’s take a look:

The first four clips are from the first drive of the second half against Michigan State. Indiana moved the ball quickly and efficiently early in the drive and had the ball on the 6-yard line less than 2 and 12 minutes into the drive.

On first down, trying to keep the tempo going, the Hoosiers lined up quickly (see the umpire still backing away from the line as the ball is snapped?) and handed it off to Devine Redding.

The right side of the line, without Feeney and Dimitric Camiel, gets blown up and Redding gets nothing.

On second down, Lagow takes a 3-step drop and chucks one to a fade route. This is the play that makes you wonder if the interceptions thrown against Wake Forest are altering the calls. With Simmie Cobbs out and Camion Patrick still yet to do anything, the Hoosiers wide receivers are as undersized as it gets. So why call for the fade instead of crossing routes or slants, especially with two starting linebackers out for Michigan State, unless those interceptions were in the back of your mind?

On 3rd down, the Hoosiers go back to Redding and get the ball down to the Spartan 3-yard line. This play, though, never had a chance to put the ball in the endzone. Kevin Wilson was telling us all that this was 4-down territory.

OK, I’m not going to get into everything wrong with this 4th down play, but suffice it to say that, perhaps, when you have a 280-pound running back, either line up in the I-formation and hand it to him, or just don’t give it to him. Definitely don’t give it to him in the wildcat (as Kevin Wilson has done on at least 3 occasions this season, and to my recollection, none of them succeeding). And absolutely, under no circumstances, have your 280-pound running back throw the ball on a bootleg.

The real story of this play, for the purposes of the film room, though, is how the Michigan State defense shifts after the snap to Redding’s side of the ball, mirroring the movement of the Indiana backfield.

The Spartans had this play (other than the ill-advised pass) snuffed out from the get-go. Why, because Indiana’s Red Zone offense is predictable.

Here’s four plays from the most important drive of the Ohio State game. Indiana had just returned an interception to the 13-yard line and trailed by 14-points with 11:34 to go in the 4th quarter.

The first play? Pretty predictable that Redding was getting the ball. They get the workhorse running back the ball on a stretch play that looks a little different because Redding is able/forced to bounce it outside by an Ohio State linebacker who fills the 5-hole. But this stretch is one of just two or three running plays the Hoosiers call on a regular basis (along with a dive up the middle and that little quick toss). It has some success, though, because Redding is able to juke a tackle or two.

On 2nd down, we get the bread and butter dive over the right guard. This is the most predictable play in the Indiana playbook (see 3rd down against Michigan State, above). And Wilson and Kevin Johns have not been hesitant to call it even with Feeney out. The problem? Feeney is what makes it go.

3rd down. We get the lone pass play, but yet again, it’s to the outside. This time, it’s even easier to defend. It’s another fade, but this one a slow-developing play-action pass to the tight end who was lined up in the backfield as an H-back. And as you can see, Ohio State isn’t fooled at all:

4th down is the prime example of what’s wrong with the Red Zone offense. It is another dive, but it has not chance. I said above that when Natee gets the ball, it should be from the I-formation. But really, Indiana should go to the I-formation on a lot of short-yardage downs like this 4th and 1.

In the I-formation here, Devine Redding would be at least two yards closer to the line of scrimmage with a blocker, presumably Natee, right in front of him. Instead, out of the pistol, Redding is nine yards from the line to gain rather than six or seven. And that means that not-Dan Feeney has to hold a block for an extra two yards. On this dive attempt, that means that Redding is stuffed for a one-yard loss, two yards short of the first down.

It probably won’t happen because over the past few season, Kevin Wilson has proven to be as stubborn a coach as there is in college football. But to cure the Red Zone blues, Indiana is going to have to get a little more creative on the shortened field. Maybe it’s putting Lagow under center, maybe it’s doing anything other than running the dive and throwing the fade. (Maybe, hopefully, it’s just that they need Dan Feeney back.) But it’s not hard to see that the lack of creativity is making things difficult on the Hoosiers in the Red Zone.