Indiana's long been one of the afterthoughts of the Big Ten conference and at worse, the butt of the joke. Kevin Wilson, a longtime Oklahoma offensive coordinator many thought was earmarked for higher profile jobs, enters his second year as Hoosiers head coach. Wilson headed into the midwest football landscape and brought together a staff that turned some heads but almost immediately but had some real challenges keeping some of the more intriguing hires in Bloomington. The surprise verbal commitment of Gunner Kiel drew some eyeballs as well, but that was two verbals ago before he wound up in South Bend this past January.
A year removed from being arguably the worst BCS conference team in America, Indiana's benefitted from Charlie Weis' arrival in Lawrence, Frank Spaziani shoring up what ailed Boston College with Jim Bollman, and Joker Phillips' bass playing stylings. The Hoosiers opened 2012 with a narrow home win over FCS Indiana State then handled probably the worst FBS team, Massachusetts, with relative ease. The ensuing week saw heartbreak, as a controversial catch and field goal give Ball State a win over the Hoosiers as time expired, 41-39. A respectable loss to Northwestern on the road and last week's nail biter against Sparty bring Indiana into Saturday night's contest 2-3. And then they ran into considerably the best team in the league in the form of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are unbeaten as they head to visit the Hoosiers underneath the lights on the Big Ten Network Saturday night. Urban Meyer's 6-0 squad head to Central Indiana after two consecutive wins over top 25 conference foes and displaying an offensive aplomb not seen in the scarlet & gray since perhaps the mid-to-late 90's (if ever). While the defense is still very much a work in progress, if there ever was ever a week to work out the kinks, further instill a sense of confidence, and keep momentum rolling, this would be it.
This is the paragraph that should be reserved for Tre Roberson. Unfortunately IU's great white hope under center will have as much (direct) impact on Saturday night's affair as we will. Roberson left the team's victory against Massachusetts with a leg injury and will miss the remainder of 2012. Enter Cameron Coffman. The sophomore Coffman was a huge reason why the Hoosiers were able to almost get past Michigan State last week completing 33/48 pases for 282 yards and 3 TDs. And while he didn't see the field last week, true freshman Nate Sudfeld also looked the part against Ball State and Northwestern. When Indiana ultimately gets Roberson back next season, they could surprisingly have one of the better top-to-bottom quarterback units in the league.
Redshirt junior Stephen Houston leads a moderately deep though not world beating rushing attack. The team arguably lost their top rusher when Roberson was sidelined but Houston or true freshman Tevin Coleman probably fit the bill as the team's second most capable. Houston is presently averaging 5.3 yards a carry and Coleman 5.5, though the latter has only garnered 32 rushes on the year to Houston's 50+. Sophomore D'Angelo Roberts rounds out the group and while he lacks the 5.0 or more yards per carry metric from his resume, he does have a rushing touchdown on the season.
The key to any viable spread offense is the receivers who effectively make the trains run on time. Indiana's group have been up to the task so far this season. Sophomore Cory Latimer leads the way with 20 receptions for 363 yards and 2 TDs already this year. Junior Kofi Hughes is a solid #2 with 248 yards on 16 catches and 2 TDs of his own. And then there's scatback Shane Wynn.
Many Buckeye fans remember Wynn as a player at one time thought to be a package deal with high school teammate and friend, the rather opinionated Cardale Jones. Wynn ultimately never got that Ohio State assurance he wanted and elected instead to head west to play for the Hoosiers. Wynn, who's official position is receiver but also sees carries on end arounds and the like, is capable of creating huge highlight reel plays and actually leads the Indiana receiving attack with 4 TDs on the year. At just 5'7", he's not going to win a jump ball ever and can be bullied by the kind of physical corners Ohio State brings to the table. Still, he's a guy the Buckeyes will have to watch pretty much the entirety of Saturday night. Last but not least, Ted Bolser, a redshirt junior, is a large target at tight end at 6-6 250 lbs. He's unlikely to be the best tight end the Buckeyes face in conference play, but can't be overlooked either.
The Hoosiers offensive line is where things start to get rather green and in a hurry. Left tackle Jason Spriggs is a true freshman and right tackle Bernard Taylor isn't a ton more experienced as a true sophomore. Will Matte in the middle is the Hoosiers spiritual leader and a grizzled veteran as a fifth year senior. To his right are true freshman right guard Dan Feeney and sophomore right tackle Peyton Eckert. Translation: John Simon and Nathan Williams have to be licking their lips right about now after watching tape on these guys essentially all week.
The Hoosiers defensive line is a venerable mixed bag. Ryan Phillis and Zack Shaw, a pair of sophomores (the former redshirt and the latter the real deal) are the defensive ends. The interior line is more senior heavy with fifth year man Larry Black Jr. and fourth year senior Adam Replogle the defensive tackles. The pair started a year prior but were also present as the Hoosiers allowed eight different teams to rush for at least 200 yards (three of those for 300) a year prior on a run defense that finished 118th in the country. Woof.
The linebacking corp is a safe haven for former JUCO stars. Middle linebacker David Cooper and strongside linebacker Jacarri Alexander are both in their first years with the program. Cooper was honerable mention Jayhawk Conference last season at Coffeyville Communtiy College. You likely recognize the name as the landing spot for Duron Carter after his exodus from the Buckeyes before he wound up frustrating Alabama fans in Tuscalossa. Griffen Dahlstrom is the other starting linebacker though he himself is also a first year starter.
Keeping with the theme, IU's secondary is quite young in their own right. Sophomore Kenny Mullen is joined by redshirt sophomore Brian Williams to man the corner positions. Two more sophomores, Mark Murphy and Drew Hardin, start at the safety spots. If Ohio State would like to try anything, oh I don't know, of the intermediate-to-deep passing variety, this is likely the game to do just that.
But what about the special teams? What about them indeed. Kicker Mitch Ewald, a junior, has hit all 19 of his point afters, and has gone 5-for-8 from the 3 point variety. Two of his three misses were between 40 and 49 yards but he's attempted zero 50+. Indiana will probably go for it and/or punt in those situations. Punter Mitchell Voss was an underwhelming ninth in the conference at 37.2 yards per game, but good news! He got hurt against Michigan State and has been replaced by Erich Toth, who though he's only had one game to his name, is averaging more than 41 yards per punt and has an extra h in his first name. Progress.
Ohio State is seventeen and a half point favorites for a reason. Pending one of the greatest mental collapses and exhibitions of over confidence in relatively recent memory, they will likely win this game and win big. If Tre Roberson were around and *if* Indiana weren't extremely green basically everywhere on their d but at tackle, maybe we'd have some sort of tangible chance for a competitive Saturday night game. Alas, pending chicanery, Kevin Wilson is a solid year-to-two (assuming he's still got the keys to the ship then) from being able to potentially steal games such as this one.
Holy Diver. Ohio State in a route, 48-7