Indiana football is ready to bounce back. Tom Allen maintains a high standard on defense, but plenty of questions swirl around the Hoosiers on offense. A new face, Walt Bell, takes over as offensive coordinator, and with several incoming transfers looking to make an immediate impact, IU, thankfully, has a new look. However, coming off of a disastrous 2021 offensive performance in which the team scored a measly 207 points (123rd in FBS), a lot of improvement is necessary. Focusing on three areas, starting Friday against Illinois, will help the Hoosiers score more points in 2022.
Building a strong offensive line
IU gave up 29 sacks in 2021, and the quarterback was constantly under pressure. The Hoosiers’ offensive line needs to start carrying some weight. OL coach Darren Hiller put it plainly: “I think last year we were a little soft.”
A more physical approach starts with veteran tackles Luke Haggard and Matthew Bedford, recently named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist. Haggard was named PFF’s 9th-ranked NFL Draft-eligible tackle for this upcoming season.
Meanwhile, Bedford, an all-Big Ten honoree who has made 27 career starts, has taken a greater leadership role upon himself. Underclassmen Bray Lynch, D.J. Moore, Josh Sales, Kahlil Benson, and Vinny Fiacable will look up to Bedford and the other veteran linemen, but with any sort of injury or poor performance, Hiller could turn to IU’s young depth. Finding five guys to protect either Jack Tuttle or Connor Bazelak must be IU’s first priority.
Establishing an effective red zone offense
IU had a paltry 35 red zone chances last season (114th in FBS) and scored a touchdown just 19 times (112th). In contrast, Indiana also had 35 red zone chances, getting into the end zone 23 times, during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Running the ball in scoring territory starts with transfers Shaun Shivers and Josh Henderson at running back. With speedster D.J. Matthews at receiver, and former quarterback Donaven McCulley making the switch to wideout, Bell has options at his disposal to get seven points, not three.
Keeping the defense guessing
What you may not remember from last season is Indiana holding first quarter leads against CFP participant Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Michigan State, and Minnesota. They also tied Ohio State and Purdue after 15 minutes, and trailed another CFP team, Michigan, 3-0, after a quarter in the “Big House.”
In 2021, IU had a -11 point differential in the first quarter. That number ballooned to –77 in the second and -79 in the third, taking Indiana out of most of their games. Mixing up tempo, using different formations, incorporating play action, and staying unpredictable with run vs. pass on first down will all be part of in-game adjustments in 2022. Perhaps even finding the occasional trick play, incorporating McCulley’s or Jaylin Lucas’ versatility, will give IU the depth and endurance to battle teams late in the game.
Indiana faces off against Illinois (1-0) in the season opener at 8 P.M. ET on FS1 on Friday night, September 2, from Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
Photo by Indiana Football