Another season, another December and January sitting on the couch watching other teams play in bowl games. Indiana fans, coaches and most players certainly would like to forget the pain that was the 2014 season.
Head coach Kevin Wilson looked to change things up on defense by hiring a new defensive coordinator in Brian Knorr. Specializing in the 3-4 defense at Wake Forest, Knorr would have a rough time transitioning an already bad defense in to a scheme that required speed and depth.
That’s exactly what happened…well that and all-important quarterback Nate Sudfeld going down. So, despite the 4-7 finish to the season, could there actually be optimism heading in to this new one?
Let’s take a look back at 2014 for the Hoosiers, before we move forward.
After a few years of searching, Indiana found a run game to speak of. Junior running back Tevin Coleman had bubbled under the surface as a potential breakout player in the past few seasons, but given the Hoosiers pass-happy offense it wasn’t likely he’d be a star.
Instead, Coleman made big play after big play and made the offense work around him and became exactly that. He finished the season as one of two running backs to over the 2,000-yard mark in the Big Ten and nationally. The other was Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin.
Coleman finished with 2,038 yards on 270 carries and averaged the same 7.4 yards per carry as Gordon did. He also had 15 touchdowns on a team that eventually was a one-man offense — and Coleman was that offense.
That’s what makes what he did so impressive, everyone and anyone on that field knew the only thing you had to do to beat Indiana was stop Coleman and keep your own offense flowing. Not many teams did that, as Coleman topped 100 yards in 11 of 12 games and had four games of 200-plus yards.
Maybe no game was as impressive as what he did to Ohio State’s defense — tearing it up for 228 yards and three touchdowns (tying a season best in that mark).
Now, if only a passing game could’ve complemented Coleman…man that IU offense would’ve been scary good in 2014.
One could easily point the finger at the defensive side of the football or injuries as the bad part of the 2014 season for the Hoosiers. However, a seven-game losing streak in Big Ten play qualifies as bad.
It especially qualifies as bad when Indiana was making so much progress in conference play in previous seasons.
Wilson’s team had major issues that helped contribute, one of which we’ll explore coming up. But, there’s no doubt that the defense still wasn’t good enough. This was a group that despite a transition year still finished last in conference play in scoring defense (36.0 points) and passing defense (242.8 yards per game). It also was 13th in B1G play in total defense (451.6 yards per game).
Not exactly the turnaround that was hoped for by switching to the 3-4 defense of new coordinator Brian Knorr.
One could argue the defense also didn’t get much in the way of help for an offense that averaged just 18.9 points per game in Big Ten play. That argument is certainly part of the picture, but so is the lack of experience and talent.
Luckily, some of that young talent Wilson and Knorr were able to recruit heading in to last season stood up to the test of a full season as freshmen and should be better able to help turn things around in year two.
What Indiana does in year two of the 3-4 defense under Knorr is going to be key to 2015’s success, but certainly things can’t keep on the track they have been under Wilson’s direction as the head coach or he’ll be out of a job in December at the latest.
Quarterback health, or a lackthereof was the ugliest part of a season that was rather forgettable. One was left wondering what would’ve happened had a healthy Nate Sudfeld been at QB alongside a record-setting season by Coleman.
Talk about a scary offense, huh? Instead, the only thing that was scary (and thus ugly) was the play of backup quarterbacks thrown to the wolves completely unprepared for what was to come. Let’s just say it wasn’t a coincidence that Sudfeld was behind center for three of IU’s four wins in 2014.
With Sudfeld out early in game six of the season, the reigns were turned over to freshmen Chris Covington and Zander Diamont. The later got most of the action, but was clearly in over his head as a passer and leader in his true freshman season. Diamont finished 2014 completing just 48.5 percent of his passes for 515 yards and just one touchdown in 132 attempts.
Given the Hoosiers’ need to get a passing game to go for its offense to be successful (and of course the team by proxy), Sudfeld’s loss underscored how young this team was and how unprepared this group was. Part of that is on the coaching staff, but let’s also not forget the Hoosiers lost Sudfeld’s biggest competitor for starting minutes, Tre Roberson, to transfer.
It was a scenario that led to Sudfeld’s health being paramount and it didn’t play out the way Wilson and Co. were hoping. Perhaps the group is better for the trails and tribulations of 2014, but IU better hope Sudfeld doesn’t repeat history in 2015 or it could be another long year.