Published August 23, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: In his first season at the helm, head coach Kevin Wilson led Indiana to a lackluster 1-11 record, with the lone victory coming against FCS school South Carolina State on Sept. 17.
Following that triumph, the Hoosiers lost a narrow decision at North Texas (24-21) and then came up just a bit short against Penn State (16-10) to open their Big Ten schedule. From there, they were hardly competitive at all, dropping the next six league contests by an average margin of 30 points. All told, it was the Hoosiers' worst season since the 1984 squad went 0-11. IU had the distinction of being the only school from a BCS conference not to beat a single team from the FBS.
Perhaps the players struggled to adjust to Wilson's much more intense coaching style than his laid-back predecessor, Bill Lynch. Certainly not all of the blame should be placed on Wilson's shoulders. Damarlo Belcher, the conference's leading receiver the previous season, was kicked off the team in late-October after failing a drug test. Wilson's top objective heading into the offseason program was to try and find ways to connect with his players, while instilling discipline and accountability.
OFFENSE: Wilson brought Seth Littrell on board to run the offense. Littrell spent the last three seasons serving as Arizona's offensive coordinator, and the 2011 Wildcats ranked third nationally in passing offense (370.8) and 15th in total offense (465.2). He'll inherit a team with far less notoriety on the offensive side of the ball.
After burning through the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart a year ago, freshman Tre Roberson took over the job for the final five games and ran the spread option. In fact, Roberson was the first true freshman ever to start at quarterback in the program's history. Whether he keeps the job remains to be seen, but he'll have a leg up on the competition.
"When you're a 1-11 football team there's no job safety. There's nothing etched in stone," Wilson said. "You've got to earn it every day. The conversation to Tre Roberson and the conversation to every quarterback, we're not going to be a good team in the Big Ten with average quarterback play. That is a fact."
With junior tailback Stephen Houston leading the charge in the backfield, the Hoosiers aren't likely to stray too far from the option game. In his first season at IU after transferring from junior college, Houston ran for 711 yards (5.5 ypc) and seven scores against league foes, while also flashing strong ball security. It marked the team's top individual rushing performance since BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 938 yards in '03, and it helped the Hoosiers notch their best season on the ground since 2001. With a capable but unproven receiving corps and a young offensive line, Houston figures to get plenty of work as long as he stays healthy.
DEFENSE: The 2011 Hoosiers boasted the nation's 118th-ranked run defense and were 114th in scoring defense. Those numbers will have to improve quite a bit if the team has any hopes of qualifying for a bowl game. Wilson brought in a half-dozen junior college transfers to come in and compete on defense, and he is hopeful that some of the many freshman who saw the field in 2011 are ready to take that next step forward. Wilson said getting third-down stops will be one of the key focuses for his defense this season, and he's confident that will happen.
"Year two of schematics, understanding some schemes, and coaches adjusting some schemes and adapting to players what they can and can't do and what not," he said, when asked at the Big Ten kickoff about IU's defense habitually letting tight games quickly get out of hand.
Despite being gashed repeatedly on the ground, the coaching staff likes what it has in the defensive tackle rotation, headed by senior Adam Replogle who notched 7.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Bobby Richardson accounted for three sacks last year as a freshman, but the team got virtually no production from anyone else at that position. Among the newcomers, keep an eye on sophomore juco transfer David Cooper, who racked up more than 100 stops (13.0 TFL) a year ago.
In the secondary, the hope is that the five freshmen who saw starting time, one or two will make an impact. After all, no other secondary in the Big Ten was torched as often as the Hoosiers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: IU's return game was ordinary at best last season, so look for Wilson to perhaps turn to one of the incoming freshmen to provide a spark there.
The team must replace punter Adam Pines, but kicker Mitch Ewald returns after earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. In two seasons, Ewald has made 29-of-35 field goals and that includes six kicks from beyond 40 yards.
OUTLOOK: The good news for the long-suffering IU program is that things can't get much worse than last season. Wilson, in his first season roaming the sidelines, played 16 true freshmen and another 16 redshirt freshmen -- the 32 freshmen were the highest total in the country.
Undoubtedly, the coaching staff is banking on that experience paying big dividends in 2012. At the end of the day though, the Hoosiers are simply not as big or as talented as the rest of the conference. Huge question marks remain on defense, and a young Roberson must adapt to a new offensive scheme. He'll get some help from Houston in the backfield, but if the defense does not show significant improvement, the Hoosiers will be forced to abandon the running game earlier than they'd like.