There’s no mistaking the identity of the Indiana Hoosiers football program under head coach Kevin Wilson. Simply put, offense rules the day.
However, heading in to 2016 the Hoosiers offense faces its first real challenge under Wilson. Gone is a record-setting quarterback, a 1,200-yard rusher and an All-American left tackle.
It will be a real test of just how well the Hoosiers have been able to recruit and build up the skills of those players it has brought to Bloomington, Ind. So, let’s take a look at just how this offense will likely look come the season opener.
How do you replace a record-setting quarterback like Nate Sudfeld? Perhaps the bigger question is if the Hoosiers system makes the quarterback numbers rather than the other way around. The debate will likely get answered in 2016, as the long-time starter, Sudfeld is gone.
Depth behind Sudfeld has been a concern over the past two years, as Zander Diamont was thrown in the mix way too soon in 2014 and just didn’t have it in 2015. That meant reaching out to the JUCO ranks, where Wilson found big-armed Richard Lagow.
In fact, if you looked at the measurables of Lagow and Sudfeld, the difference is minimal — with Lagow coming in at 6-6, 240 pounds.
Lagow impressed enough in spring to lead the race to start come the fall, but the race is far from over thanks to the intriguing play of sophomore Danny Cameron (the son of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron).
Every indication through summer workouts indicates that the younger Cameron continues to get better and may really push Lagow if he can’t be more consistent with his play. Watch for this job to be Lagow’s, but don’t be surprised to see Cameron earning snaps throughout the year at some point.
As for Diamont? It appears the coaching staff would like to redshirt the smaller quarterback so he can concentrate on improving his body and staying healthy himself. All of it likely setting up an interesting scenario next offseason.
IU is used to surviving the loss of a talented running back these days, something it couldn’t say early on in the Wilson era. After losing 2,000-yard rusher Tevin Coleman in 2014, the Hoosiers lost 1,200-yard rusher Jordan Howard early to the NFL draft as well.
That’s okay though, as they bring back 1,000-yard rusher Devine Redding in 2016. The junior tailback got to that 1,000-yard mark on 226 carries, but this season there isn’t another high-caliber running back to help ease the load and real concerns over Redding’s ability to carry over 300 times in a season are there.
Concerns mainly exist because the Hoosiers don’t exactly know what they have in terms of game-ready depth on the roster heading in to 2016. Sophomore Mike Majette was the third leading rusher last season, but only saw 37 carries for 181 yards on the season.
There’s also intriguing JUCO transfer Camion Patrick, who is a physically imposing back at 6-2, 223 pounds. He didn’t play in a single game as a sophomore last season, but was offensive scout team player of the year. Patrick did show plenty of athletic ability in JUCO though, catching 42 passes for 631 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014 and had nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards.
Building that depth and a solid rotation is key to giving Redding a real chance to use his explosive ability to all of its advantage in 2016. Without it, it could be a very interesting season for a team who has become more and more reliant on a big-play running game to ease pressure on a great passing attack.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
As many questions as there are at quarterback, Indiana has no such issues at wide receiver in 2016. It has a trio of varied and equally talented pass catchers in junior Simmie Cobbs and seniors Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige.
That trio combined for 171 receptions, 2,625 yards and 15 total touchdowns last season alone. Having that kind of production and experience should certainly help any quarterback look good.
Indiana isn’t just full of senior talent at the position either, as sophomores Nick Westbrook and Luke Timian saw enough snaps to know they could be productive in this offense as well. That experience will be helpful in 2016, but vital down the line.
Tight End will be the key concern in the pass catching area this season, as both of the top players at the position graduated. Leading the way in 2016 will be junior Danny Friend, who saw action in four games and had three catches for 39 yards in limited playing time. At 6-5, 260 pounds, Friend could be a handful for opposing offenses to deal with in both the passing and running games, a dimension that wasn’t totally there in 2015.
Sure, All-American left tackle Jason Spriggs is gone, but this line is far from devoid of talent. In fact, it will be led by potential All-American guard Dan Feeney to begin with. Feeney is on the Outland Award watch list already and is likely to be on plenty of more preseason lists before it is all said and done.
Replacing Spriggs would be a huge challenge at most schools, but the Hoosiers are in love with his replacement, sophomore Brandon Knight. There’s reason for that, as he was named to the Honorable Mention All-Freshman team by BTN.com after finding playing time in 11 games at both tackle and tight end. His athleticism adds a new dimension to a stout offensive line.
Senior center Wes Rodgers may not jump off the page, but his experience over the past few years should help ease the loss of Garrett Clark.
Rodgers and Feeney are just one half of an offensive line that will see four seniors as likely starters. Lining up in between Knight and Rodgers on the left side is senior Jacob Bailey and rounding out the O-line is right tackle Dimitric Camiel.
This group has lofty numbers to try and live up to, as IU became the first offense in the Big Ten to lead the conference in total yards, scoring offense and passing offense since Ohio State did in 1995. It also is a group that allowed just 13 sacks last season, seventh best in the entire country.
With all the experience back, this group should really help ease any concerns around the development at QB.
Our Projected Starters
WR: Simmie Cobbs, Jr.
WR: Ricky Jones, Sr.
WR: Mitchell Paige, Sr.
LT: Brandon Knight, So.
LG: Jacob Bailey, Sr.
C: Wes Robinson, Sr.
RG: Dan Feeney, Sr.
RT: Dimitric Camiel, Sr.
TE: Danny Friend, Jr.
QB: Richard Lagow, Jr.
RB: Devine Redding, Jr.