Indiana’s first season under head coach Tom Allen has come to an end after a seven-point loss to Purdue that felt more like a 21-point drubbing, as Purdue was in the driver’s seat for much of the game and it took a pair of late scores for the Hoosiers to pull within a touchdown.
Indiana’s final record of 5-7 is certainly disappointing in a season that had the team hunting for a third-straight bowl appearance for just the second time in school history. Some have understandably taken a negative perspective on the program. Others have chosen to look to the future and some bright young prospects. Getting back to bowl eligibility next season may be a tall task, but there are a few things that the Hoosiers can do to take a few steps in the right direction.
Fire Mike DeBord
Radical, right? Indiana fans have been frustrated by Indiana’s offense and their philosophy (or lack thereof) basically all season. This hire seemed a bit disappointing almost immediately, as the Butch Jones castoff and former Michigan coordinator came to Bloomington with a bad reputation amongst the fans of his former teams.
The offensive playcalling was uninspired most of the time, with simple interior runs and passing plays short of the sticks (even on 3rd and 4th down) being the staples of the offense. Peyton Ramsey started four games this season and his main tool was his mobility. The main utilization of that tool was a called QB run up the gut which might have worked three times total, but continued to be called regularly. That’s not exactly what you’re hoping to see when you’ve got somebody with the running ability of Peyton Ramsey under center. The inability to adjust to your personnel and correctly utilize the tools that you are given is not something you want to see out of a coordinator.
The lack of creativity on the offensive side of the ball was a problem for Indiana and a bit of a change from the Wilson era. The Wilson offense might have been in decline during his final season in Bloomington, but at least he was willing to experiment with different personnel groupings (see: The Surf n’ Turf/Wild Bacon/Z package) to give the offense a little extra kick. I’m not saying that DeBord should’ve played a 260-pound running back at quarterback, but he could’ve done something to stop his offense from being so gosh darn DeBoring.
Bringing in a new offensive coordinator or even handing over playcalling duties to Grant Heard or Nick Sheridan would more than likely benefit the Hoosiers.
Find a Quarterback
This one should be no surprise as well. Between Ramsey and Richard Lagow the quarterback play this season was less than desirable. Ramsey did show some promise during his time as the starter before suffering an injury against Maryland which is why he will more than likely enter spring ball as QB1. He should have plenty of competition for the job though.
Ramsey’s main competition and likely QB2 will be redshirt freshman and 2016 Florida Mr. Football Nick Tronti. If you somehow forgot about Tronti, you should probably reacquaint yourself with him and his skill set. The Hoosiers are also looking to bring in some QB talent on the recruiting trail. As of right now, Tom Allen & Co. are targeting JUCO dual-threat QB Terry Wilson, who redshirted for a season at Oregon before transferring to Garden City Community College last season. Wilson was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, threw for almost 1800 yards in 10 games this season, and averaged a little more than four yards per carry.
Touchdown Terry made plays at the JUCO level, but the Hoosiers will have to top Kentucky in a recruiting battle to bring him to Bloomington. He’d be another interesting option in a potential Indiana quarterback battle.
Another option for the Hoosiers under center should be Ben Davis QB Reese Taylor. Taylor committed to Indiana back in August and was expected to make a move to either receiver or cornerback upon his arrival in Bloomington, but a potential lack of depth under center and a solid senior season in which he led the Giants to the Indiana 6A State Championship should help him stick at quarterback.
With all of these potential options, you’d think that one of them will be able to take the reigns of the offense and be a competent leader.
Find Some New Blood at Linebacker
Tegray Scales has been a stalwart at linebacker for Indiana and is one of the best to ever don an IU uniform, but all good things must come to an end. Scales and fellow starting linebacker Chris Covington, who is also very good, are graduating this year. This creates a problem for the Hoosiers. Who will play linebacker in 2018?
While there’s a very small chance (never say never, right?) that somebody will step right in and fill the shoes of Scales and Covington, Indiana will need to find somebody to anchor what has been a much-improved defense in order to continue Indiana’s newfound defensive-minded culture.
Another blow to the Indiana linebacking corps may be the loss of Dameon Willis Jr, who was the third leading tackler among linebackers last season. The redshirt junior recently posted what might be a final thanks to the Hoosier faithful on Instagram. This would be a somewhat big loss when you account for what Indiana was already losing and the fact that Willis was likely in line for a starting spot in 2018.
At the moment, it looks like the senior tandem of Scales and Covington will be replaced by some combination of Reakwon Jones, Michael McGinnis, and Kiante Walton. McGinnis and Walton will be redshirt seniors and Jones will be a redshirt junior next season; Jones was listed as a second string linebacker and McGinnis and Walton were the third string tandem for much of last season. The trio of linebackers combined for 16 tackles in 2017, which isn’t exactly ideal when looking at some players that could play key roles for Indiana in 2018.
Injuries plagued Indiana from literally the first play of the season, as Nick Westbrook was lost for the year on the opening kickoff against Ohio State. This was a recurring theme for the Hoosiers, as nearly every position was affected by at least one injury.
They’ll look to get impact players such as Ramsey, Marcelino Ball, Donavan Hale and Westbrook back to full health as they approach spring ball, which could be important as they need to get those guys as many reps as they can to prepare for next season.
Improve the Offensive Line
After the resignation of Wilson, Indiana lost a good chunk of their coaching staff, including a few key positional coaches. Offensive Line Coach Greg Frey was one of those coaches, as he left to take an assistant coaching position at Michigan.
The impact of his loss was felt throughout the season, as a team that has been spoiled with linemen like Rodger Saffold, Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney struggled to do much of anything along the offensive line.
They seemed to improve as the season went on, and that experience will surely benefit them as they head into next season, but some of the younger linemen will need to step up to provide some quality depth. This includes guys like Caleb Jones, who might be the largest human being that I have ever laid eyes on at 6’8” and 370 pounds. The Hoosiers should hope that he and the rest of their plethora of freshman can grow into larger roles in 2018.
So where do the Hoosiers go from here? Fans are hoping that they go up. If they do the things listed above, they should be able to soften the blow of departing players and possibly contend for a bowl appearance in 2018, which would be an accomplishment for a program that hasn’t seen very many of those in its history.