Three keys for Indiana in 2015
Could this be a make-or-break year for Kevin Wilson at IU? Entering his fifth year at the helm, the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator has yet to lead the Hoosiers back to a bowl game. Here are three keys that’ll help them get there.
Find replacement for J-Shun Harris
Indiana and Illinois — two teams that figure to throw the ball a ton — were both dealt crushing offseason blows with ACL tears to their top returning receivers. J-Shun Harris was expected to make a big leap this season with the graduation of Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner. Instead, the speedster will have a medical redshirt for his sophomore year and IU has to find some consistency at receiver. Transfers Marqui Hawkins and Camion Patrick will have to gel with Nate Sudfeld in a hurry. UAB running back transfer Jordan Howard will have to carve out a role in the passing game. IU also wouldn’t mind a breakout sophomore season from 6-4 Simmie Cobbs Jr., who is now its leading returning receiver after catching seven passes for 114 yards as a freshman. Kevin Wilson did say at Big Ten Media Days that this was the most skilled group of receivers he’s had in his five years in Bloomington. Only time will tell, but experienced they are not.
Play bend, but don’t break defense
No team in the country was worse defensively in the red zone than Indiana last year. Ninety-five percent of the time an offense got in IU’s red zone, it scored. Coughing up 33 points per game won’t work if Indiana wants to go bowling for the first time in eight years. This year’s unit doesn’t lack experience up front with returners Darius Latham, Nick Mangieri and Adarius Rayner while former four-star recruit Zack Shaw will look to solidify the linebackers. IU needs guys that can get them off the field. Despite having a run-heavy offense last year — and one of the country’s best — the Hoosiers still finished 102nd in time of possession. That has to change for them to climb out of the Big Ten basement.
Keep Sudfeld healthy
Despite Tevin Coleman’s superhero-like efforts, IU’s season fell apart when Sudfeld went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. It’s easy to forget that the Hoosiers were 3-2 with a win at No. 18 Mizzou before their signal-caller was knocked out against Iowa. Only one win followed that midseason nightmare, and only one of IU’s six losses was by single digits. Keeping Sudfeld upright is crucial for an offense that has a ton of talent to replace at the skill positions. Dan Feeney, Jake Reed and Jason Spriggs are all back for an offensive line that has been steady in the Wilson era. The less hits on Sudfeld and that surgically-repaired left shoulder, the better shot IU has to finally go bowling.