Joe Coughlin

Spring ball matters for Roberson, IU

Created on Mar. 25, 2013 11:38 PM EST

These aren’t your father’s Hoosiers.

These Hoosiers are an offensive juggernaut, a team that scored more than 30 points in 2012 and returns 10 of 11 offensive starters for 2013.

Two years in, head coach Kevin Wilson has his team playing like a Pac-12 squad. All youth and all energy, last year’s Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing and were second in total offense. But it wasn’t all sunshine and 70-yard bombs.

Indiana was last in the league in time of possession, and in the bottom half in first downs and offensive efficiency — a product of significant talent and significant youth.

Spring camps are under way and spring games and scrimmages approach. Time for the young guns to show what they’ve got and for the old hands to ease into their final season.

There’s a problem. The Hoosiers don’t have old hands. They have a lot of players who need to get schooled in the next few months. Not because they are uneducated, but because the more time the merrier.

Look at Indiana’s roster or hear the chatter around the Big Ten water cooler and you know the Hoosiers are coming. Since Wilson took office, IU has secured two of its best recruiting classes in recent memory by touting an explosive offensive plan hard to turn down. After all, Wilson was considered an offensive genius while assisting at Oklahoma from 2002-2010. Names like Stoops, Adrian Peterson and Sam Bradford should ring a bell.

Those offensive ideas started impacting the Hoosiers two years ago with true freshman Tre Roberson starting under center. The raw but dynamic athlete — think Antwaan Randle El — started five games and played in nine, racking up 362 rush yards and another 780 in the air.  IU was 1-11, however.

Year Two, Roberson was hot out of the gates, leading his team to a win over Indiana State and to a big lead thanks to two long TD runs in the second game before the sophomore broke his leg. Cameron Coffman was an exemplary replacement, throwing for 2,754 yards and 15 TDs the rest of the way. Coffman did fade down the stretch, though. IU finished 4-8.

Back in camp with 20-plus pounds on his frame, Roberson will be given every chance to win his job back. You can’t keep that talent off the field. Quoted as saying he’s 100 percent, Roberson, who is a (medical) redshirt sophomore, will be a playmaker after he sheds the rust. That being said, Coffman as well as rising sophomore Nate Sudfeld — who saw time, threw seven TDs and was a freshman All-Big Ten pick last year — are capable FBS quarterbacks. The full depth chart is another reason a spring regimen is a necessary part of the process for IU.

It’s important to note that Wilson has coached two Heisman Trophy winners, Jason White and Bradford, as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma. It’s also important to note both those stars were pocket passers. Don’t read too much into that, however. What it tells me is Wilson is happy to have options and he’ll get the most out of his talent. I think that could mean using Roberson and Coffman/Sudfeld. A two-quarterback set is not only acceptable, but encouraged, if you have the personnel. And if you have the personnel, it’s proved to be a tough scheme to slow.

Indiana also has an experienced tailback —Stephen Houston (RS Sr.)  — and its top six receivers, including All-Big Ten picks WR Cody Latimer and TE Ted Bolser, back to complement the arms. Four of five offensive lineman also return, including two freshman All-Americans (Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs). That’s going to help with cohesion and ease the transition for any strategy the Hoosiers go with.

New and old must meld on defense

There’s going to be chirps around Bloomington about a bowl-caliber team. Not so fast.

The Hoosiers will score, but to get to six wins, they have to stop somebody.

IU gave up a league-high 35 points a game last year, which doesn’t give much weight to the team’s nine returning starters. Nowhere to go but up, though. With the top two tacklers in S Greg Heban and LB David Cooper back, the Hoosiers have to be better.

The lackluster defense isn’t lost on Wilson and his staff. The Hoosiers just locked in the Big Ten’s fourth best recruiting class for 2013, picking up 22 prep stars, 13 of which are defenders and four are “athletes,” or yet to be determined. They picked up five four-star athletes, four of which are on the defensive side of the field. Some will play this year.

All that will help and so will IU’s eight home games, including the first five of the season. But will it be enough to get to a bowl? If that defense can be marginally better, then the Hoosiers should improve on their 1-4 record in games decided by less than five points in 2012. A two-point loss to instate rival Ball State and one-point loss to Navy still stick in the craw of IU, which could have been bowl-bound with those two wins.

The Hoosiers could win three of their first five (Indiana State, Navy, Bowling Green, Missouri, Penn State) and be in good shape. Its three other Big Ten home games?

Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue.

Combined Big Ten record in 2012: 5-20. 

Don’t get too excited, Bloomington. It’s only spring.

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