Indiana football: 5 biggest storylines for the Hoosiers' spring game
With Indiana winning only 6 games the last 2 seasons combined, the spring is a critical time for Tom Allen and his Hoosiers. There are a lot of questions about the direction of the program.
The biggest one: Can the Hoosiers, under Allen’s leadership, right their passage and return to the program that played in consecutive bowl games in 2019 and ’20? That won’t be answered until the fall, but other questions that will impact IU’s success then can be asked now, like who wins out at quarterback, who are the offensive playmakers and how can the defense return to form?
Let’s take a look at the 5 biggest storylines this spring for the Hoosiers, who will hold their “Spring Football Event” on Saturday in Memorial Stadium.
It’s been a quarterback carousel for the Hoosiers the last couple seasons, with Indiana unable to settle on a starter who can A) Stay healthy or B) Be effective.
Perhaps 2023 will bring stability to the most important position on the field. But as spring practices started March 4, it was unclear who of 3 healthy scholarship quarterbacks — returnee Dexter Williams is out with a serious knee injury, suffered in the finale last November vs. Purdue — might ultimately win out. But Allen feels comfortable with his options, even if all 3 are young: Redshirt freshman Brendan Sorsby, freshman Broc Lowry and redshirt freshman Tayven Jackson, who transferred from Tennessee.
It’s Jackson who many are hoping will win the job, because the former 4-star prospect likely has the most upside. But he’s inexperienced, having gone 3-of-4 passing for 37 yards with 4 rushes for 10 yards and a touchdown last season for the Volunteers.
Will Jackson win the job now? Or will IU go into the summer with the trio still battling it out to be QB1?
Donaven McCulley’s transformation
A year ago, Donaven McCulley was a quarterback playing wide receiver. Now, the former standout recruit hopes that a season of experience as a wideout, plus an offseason to continue to acclimate, will help him become a breakout offensive star for the Hoosiers.
And Indiana certainly needs it, considering the Hoosiers have veteran Cam Camper returning after his big season a year ago but few other known receiving options. McCulley certainly has the potential, considering he’s a gigantic 6-foot-5 target for Indiana’s quarterbacks. McCulley, though, has slimmed down a bit, dropping about 8 pounds during the offseason in an effort to increase his speed while maintaining the athleticism and strength that make him such a unique prospect. Last season, immediately after his transition, McCulley caught 16 passes for 169 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown at Ohio State.
“This year I’m way more comfortable,” McCulley told media after Tuesday’s practice. “Even with the playbook, the linemen, what are the receivers supposed to do. So I’m kind of just coming into my own at that position.”
Eyes on the O-line
Indiana’s offensive line has been a mess for a couple seasons, with lackluster performances in pass protection and even weaker efforts in run blocking. Combined with the inconsistencies at quarterback, they’ve been the 2 biggest reasons why the Hoosiers’ offense has back-slid so dramatically.
Is there a fix?
Veteran offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who came to Indiana from Wisconsin, was brought in to help provide a cure to the offensive line and the running game, but he might not find quick answers. The Hoosiers have only a handful of players with starting experience returning to the O-line, and one of those — tackle Matthew Bedford — is working his way back from a season-ending knee injury. IU will lean heavily on players like Bedford, assuming he can return to the form that made him Indiana’s best O-lineman pre-injury, Zach Carpenter, Mike Katic and Joshua Sales Jr., but Bostad will need to develop others, as well.
Putting the mojo back on D
Since having one of the nation’s best defenses in 2020, Indiana has fallen on hard times.
Yes, injuries have played their part, but that’s not all of the story. The ball-hawking Hoosiers of the past are gone, with Indiana needing to reload. They’ve already made one change: Allen is handing off play-calling duties once again, giving them to new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Matt Guerrieri. It’s a similar scenario to 2019-20, when then-DC Kade Wommack called the plays and Indiana’s defense was among the nation’s leaders in takeaways.
Indiana might not be able to get to that level, at least not in 2023, but the Hoosiers must find a way to be more consistent after they ranked last in both points allowed (33.9) and yardage (449.3) in the B1G last season.
The Hoosiers have a combined 32 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on their roster right now, according to the player list on the school’s official website.
And many will be counted on to fill a 2-deep that’s in rebuild mode. Who can be counted on, especially at positions of need for Indiana, like on the defensive line, in the secondary, on the O-line and at wide receiver? Perhaps Trevell Mullen can develop into a starter at cornerback, like his All-America older brother did for the Hoosiers. Maybe Omar Cooper Jr. can add depth to the wide receiver corps and give the Hoosiers a needed down-field threat. Could be that offensive lineman DJ Moore gives the unit a giant boost.
Many of those things will be decided during the spring, and could go a long way toward helping Indiana get back to 6 wins — or more — in 2023.