The past few seasons, Kevin Wilson’s high octane offense has been led by a tremendous rushing attack. Last season, Jordan Howard and Devine Redding both hit the 1,000-yard mark, and Redding seems well on his way to racking up another 1,000 this year.
But while we have dubbed Indiana to be “Running Back U” for the revolving door of talented and efficient backs, the truth of the matter is you can point at one guy as the catalyst that makes it all go — Dan Feeney.
Wilson’s offense helps, to be sure — the effectiveness of the passing game and spreading out three or four talented wide receivers on every play unclogs the box, and the fast-paced, no-huddle tempo wears down the big boys up front for an opponent — but Dan Feeney’s versatility makes it all click.
Feeney left Saturday’s 30-20 win over Ball State in the 2nd quarter with a concussion. Fortunately, the Hoosiers have a bye week which, presumably, will allow Feeney to recover in time for the Wake Forest contest. But if he doesn’t return, what are the Hoosiers missing?
A quick first step and brute force are always nice in an offensive lineman, but in Indiana’s zone blocking scheme, those skills are even more important, as are the ability to get to the next level. Dan Feeney has a better combined set of those skills than anyone in the Big Ten, and perhaps the country. Take a look:
On this 4th and 1 play, Florida International puts 7 guys in the box against 7 Indiana blockers, with a roaming safety or a nickelback hanging close to the box at the bottom of the screen. The two cornerbacks to the top have been taken out of the play with the two receivers split out.
When Indiana gets to play 8-on-8 like this (with the high safety effectively out of the play since the Hoosiers need only one yard), it takes a superhuman act by a defensive lineman to blow it up. But that’s especially the case when the opponent makes a mistake doesn’t have anyone lined up over Feeney. He’s good enough at getting to the second level, Devine Redding could have walked through the line for the first down.
Watch Feeney (RG, 67):
What Feeney does that’s even more impressive here, though, is turn the linebacker. Watch it again. The defender who eventually makes the tackle makes it 15 yards further down the field than he would have if Feeney had just gotten a body on the linebacker. But Feeney turns him to the right and cuts off the defender’s lane to Redding.
On the next play, FIU has decided to play 7-on-7 in the box again. And like the last play, the two wide receivers split to the far side take the corners out of the play. The difference on this play is that Feeney is covered by a down lineman. Camiel, the right tackle, is left uncovered to get to the linebacker without having to touch a lineman as he normally would in the zone scheme. All that has to happen for this play to go for four or five yards is for Feeney to win his matchup. What do you think is going to happen?
Feeney doesn’t even have to think about getting to the second level here because of the defensive alignment. So one quick step and raw power shoves the defensive tackle two or three yards left of the hole and Williams is able to put his head down and go.
The next clip is not one that will go on Devine Redding’s highlight reel or make the team video after the Hoosiers win the Big Ten (2-0 feels so good). But it’s another fine example of Feeney’s importance. Feeney is going to pull here, and save his tight end who gets blown off the ball — so much so that Feeney couldn’t turn up to the next level.
But Feeney pulls so quickly he’s able to adjust his route and hit the defensive end to give Redding just enough space to turn what should have been a loss of two or three yards into a first down:
The final Feeney clip is zone blocking working to perfection. Indiana has six to block seven here. The key is Camiel and Feeney double teaming the defensive tackle lined up over Feeney and then one of them getting to the second level. The left guard is going to pull, so ideally, the middle linebacker will make a move to his left once he sees the pulling guard and Feeney can essentially take the tackle one-on-one after Camiel gives him a chip and moves to the backer. But the linebacker reads Redding pretty well and moves right to the middle of the Indiana line.
No trouble for the Hoosiers, however. Watch closely: Feeney is able to get the defensive tackle turned before Camiel ever puts a hand on him, meaning Camiel can easily get the inside position to seal the tackle and Feeney is able to move to the middle linebacker. Feeney seals the second level and gives the Hoosiers everything you want on a running play with zone blocking: the running back going one-on-one with a linebacker:
Redding doesn’t win the battle with the linebacker on that play but still gains five or six yards. And we all know that Redding does regularly win those one-on-ones with somebody slower.
This is why the Feeney concussion would be a huge concern if Indiana played Wake Forest this weekend, and why it will remain uncomfortable until he is cleared to play. Take a look at the final clip below. Ball State has eight in the box, with a ninth and tenth close enough to make an effort. But none of that matters much with Dan Feeney out with a concussion.
The backup right guard, Jacob Bailey, makes a slow first step and gets blown off the line and into the center, Wes Rogers, preventing either of them from sliding off the tackle and into the second level. As a result, Redding is walloped for about half a yard:
They don’t tell the whole story, but these five plays give a glimpse into the importance of Dan Feeney to the Hoosier rushing attack. It may be Running Back U, but it helps when you’ve got All-American talent like Dan Feeney paving the way.