Better or worse: Previewing Indiana's offense in 2022
No, it too frequently felt like it was in reverse.
The Hoosiers labored to do much right offensively, ranking last or near last in about every relevant category, including scoring (17.3 points per game, 13th), yardage (290.0, last), rushing yards (114.5, 12th) and passing yards (175.5, 10th). It was ugly, and even more so in Big Ten play, when Indiana scored only 94 points in 9 games, which included a 35-point outburst in a loss. They limped across the finish line, scoring just 7 in a lopsided loss to Purdue.
After averaging 30.1 points per game vs. B1G teams in 2020, the Hoosiers only mustered a league-low 10.4 in 2021.
There’s almost nowhere to go but up, at least one would hope so.
Coach Tom Allen orchestrated almost wholesale changes in the offseason, bringing in new coordinator Walt Ball and new quarterback Connor Bazelak, plus a bunch of others at critical skill positions. IU returns only 3 starters on offense, all of them on a line that needs a boost after a lackluster 2021.
If Indiana is to get back to the postseason after a disastrous ’21, in which it finished only 2-10 and winless in the Big Ten, then its offense will need to get in forward gear. Let’s take a look to how the Hoosiers stack up to last season.
The Hoosiers turned over a majority of their offensive personnel.
Is that a bad thing?
Not necessarily, given how poorly Indiana performed last season. The Hoosiers will be replacing oft-injured quarterback Michael Penix, receiver Ty Fryfogle, tight end Peyton Hendershot, running back Stephen Carr and a bunch of others. But Allen feels like the replacements might be better, or at least more consistent.
Bazelak, who transferred from Missouri, gives the Hoosiers instant credibility at quarterback after they had none following Penix’s injury early last season. After the veteran QB was sidelined, the Hoosiers cycled through 3 others starters, none of whom proved effective. IU will see the return of slot receiver DJ Matthews, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, plus will add former UNC receiver Emery Simmons.
Ball hopes to be able to have better weapons at running back, particularly with transfers Josh Henderson (North Carolina) and Shaun Shivers (Auburn).
Passing offense: Better
Penix, Jack Tuttle, Donaven McCulley and Grant Gremel all started at quarterback in 2021.
None had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio. None connected on better than 56% of their pass attempts. And none proved to be able to move the football with any sort of consistency.
Bazelak might be a tremendous upgrade, provided he can find other skill players to help. In 20 starts at Missouri, the 6-3, 220-pounder had 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, while hitting on better than 66% of his attempts. During his sophomore season in ’21, he passed for 2,548 yards with 16 scores and 11 picks. But while Allen might be comfortable with Bazelak — heck, if he can stay healthy, it’d be a gigantic improvement over last season — identifying his other top targets remains a work-in-progress.
Indiana saw 4 of its top 5 pass-catchers graduate or transfer, with only Javon Swinton, who is poised to take on a much larger role after having 15 receptions and a TD in ’21, coming back. Matthews, a former Florida State receiver and return man, is likely Option No. 1. The slot man was off to a productive start last season, with 13 catches in the first 3 1/2 games. Maybe Simmons emerges as a big-play threat; the 6-1, 190-pounder had 11 receptions in 8 games (6 starts) for the Tar Heels last season.
But otherwise, Indiana has very little proven depth on the perimeter.
Hendershot (team-high 46 receptions) is gone, although IU feels a little better about its depth at tight end, led by former backup AJ Barner.
Running game: Even
This wasn’t a strength, either, last season after Carr and Co. failed to find any sort of consistent traction. The Hoosiers averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt, as they too frequently lacked the physicality between the tackles — and a marginal offensive line wasn’t helpful, either — and the speed to get to the perimeter.
It’s a retooled backfield now.
Maybe Shivers, who had more than a 1,000 yards rushing in 3 seasons at Auburn, can prove to be the kind of game-breaking back that the Hoosiers are seeking. He has more elusiveness, being a smaller 5-7, 190-pounder who has some speed and agility to get outside the tackles. And Henderson, who had 40 carries as a backup for several seasons at UNC, can give IU more versatility.
But much will come from the o-line as well. Starters Luke Haggard, Matthew Bedford and Mike Katic return, but it was a marginal group, at best, in ’21. If Indiana’s running game is to be better, the personnel will need to be better at the line and in the backfield. Chances are that’s too much to ask in one offseason.
Kicking game: Better
The place-kicker — Charles Campbell — stays the same for the Hoosiers this season.
But the senior can be better than he was last season because he’s shown it before. Campbell was only 13-of-18 last season, after a great sophomore season in which he hit 12-of-13. For his career, the Tennessee native is 25-of-31, including 4 makes (and only 1 miss) from 50 yards and beyond.
Matthews will give the Hoosiers’ return game a major boost, too. Before he was injured against Western Kentucky last season, Matthews took 1 of his 4 punt returns back for an 81-yard touchdown. He’s a good one.
Indiana better hope it’s better.
Or the 2022 season might turn out to be longer — and with more program-changing consequences — than 2021. But there’s reason to think IU will be improved on offense. Ball, the former UMass head coach, seems better suited to executing what Allen wants offensively, a group that can run the ball effectively, while having a quarterback who can hit on attempts down the field. (Though Mizzou fans weren’t exactly thrilled with that aspect of Bazelak’s game. He had 18 completions that covered at least 30 yards in 2021. Marginal by SEC standards, but IU QBs combined for just 12 such completions last season.)
The personnel is more suited to be able to execute, although it’s far from a finished product. But Bazelak is an upgrade at QB, especially compared to an injured Penix, and gives the offense someone to build around.