Indiana football: 6 priorities for the offseason
Now that the season is over, one of the best in the last 30 years of Indiana football (if not longer), it’s time to get to the offseason.
The 26-20 loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl will hurt, but maybe that’s a good thing. It can motivate the Hoosiers into what will be an important offseason, as IU tries to build on its consecutive winning seasons.
Let’s take a look at 6 offseason priorities for Tom Allen and Co.
Get over it
The Hoosiers let what they felt was mistreatment by the Big Ten linger too long in December, and it affected them in their January bowl game.
More than a touchdown favorite, IU was comatose in the first half against Ole Miss, giving the Rebels life. And despite a second-half rally, the Hoosiers lost, putting a damper on what had been a great season.
Time to get over it.
Whatever ill feelings remain over the Big Ten’s decision to put Ohio State in its title game, the league’s choice on bowl placement or the College Football Playoff Committee’s snub, Indiana needs to get over it. The only way to prove to everyone that you deserved better is to continue winning. Building a program that is respected by peers is about more than one winning season.
This fall, Indiana will have a chance to post a third straight winning season, something it hasn’t done since the 1940s. That should be Priority No. 1.
The Hoosiers enter the offseason with not one, but two injured quarterbacks.
Backup Jack Tuttle joined starter Michael Penix Jr. on the injury list after he separated his throwing shoulder in the first half against the Rebels. He fought through the pain and played in the second half, nearly rallying IU to a win.
But now, he’ll need time to recover — it’s unknown, as least as of now, the full extent of the injury — and get ready for spring practice. IU would like to have him, being that it would at least give Allen one of his top two quarterbacks.
Penix, who tore his ACL in late November for the second time during his three-year Indiana career, is unlikely to be fully ready for spring practice. But getting the versatile quarterback healthy again is a must for the Hoosiers in 2021.
Obviously, they’re not the same without him. Although Indiana beat Wisconsin with Tuttle under center, the offense lost the big-play explosiveness that had been featured with Penix. Indiana is limited without him.
Get a coordinator
The Hoosiers have been through this before — one year ago, in fact, when Kalen DeBoer, then IU’s offensive coordinator, left to become the head coach at Fresno State.
This time, the vacancy is on the defensive side of the ball. Allen will have to find a replacement for Kane Wommack, who coached his final game for the Hoosiers vs. the Rebels before taking off for his new gig as the head man at South Alabama.
Allen’s track record is good. A few years ago, he made a smart move in giving up defensive play-calling duties — he had been the DC under former head coach Kevin Wilson — to focus all his energy on head coach responsibilities. And then last season, he elevated assistant Nick Sheridan to take over as offensive coordinator, a largely seamless transition.
But defense carried IU this season, as the Hoosiers were one of the country’s best teams in terms of sacks and takeaways. Finding a new leader of that group is a priority.
Develop new playmakers
Assuming no one opts to come back for an extra “pandemic” year, the Hoosiers are set to lose many of their top offensive playmakers.
Ty Fryfogle, the Big Ten Receiver of the Year, and Whop Philyor, a fellow All-Big Ten receiver, are set to move on. They combined for 91 receptions, about 54 percent of Indiana’s total in 2020.
Miles Marshall was a solid No. 3, showing off big-play ability while averaging 15.3 yards on his 19 receptions. A rising junior, he’ll move into a bigger role, perhaps as a starter, next year.
But who else?
Sophomore David Ellis played a hybrid running back/wide receiver position this season and could see his role expand, but the Hoosiers will have to find other playmakers. Maybe Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews, an Indianapolis native, could be one. He’ll be around for spring practices.
But IU will need other underclassmen to step up as well.
Retool the running game
If there was a disappointment to the Hoosiers’ performance in 2020, it was the lack of a consistent running game.
And that was a surprise, given the quality of the Hoosiers’ running backs. Junior Stevie Scott III, a former 1,000-yard rusher, averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, although he did lead IU with 561 yards and had 10 touchdowns. And backup Sampson James, thought to be ready for a breakout season after topping 100 yards vs. Purdue to end the 2019 season, failed to even reach that total for this entire year. IU’s longest run of the year was a 26-yarder by backup Tim Baldwin Jr.
An offensive line that was rebuilding — and also had injury issues — could be partly to blame. IU was 12th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 108.6 yards per game on a paltry 3.1 yards per attempt.
That needs to be fixed.
Lock him up
Allen is the Big Ten’s second-lowest paid head coach, according to the USA Today salary database.
And that’s after Allen signed a new 7-year contract in December 2019, boosting his average annual salary to $3.9 million. But Allen, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, probably deserves another jump, especially if other programs come calling.