Sister-site The Crimson Quarry stops by to answer some questions about the season opener between FIU and Indiana. Don’t be shy to stop by their site for more coverage of Indiana football as they have more insight on this week’s game between FIU and Indiana.
Cyrus Smith: After Kevin Wilson took Indiana took to their first bowl game since Bill Lynch was the head coach, is the fan base still optimistic that Wilson is the right guy for the job?
Crimson Quarry: I don't think that's much of a question, for any reasonable fan at least. Indiana has as much stability among the coaching staff as they've had in the last 25 years right now, and much of that can be attributed to Wilson's extension signed this past offseason. Thanks to AD Fred Glass' investment in the sport, Indiana finally ponied up and paid the going rate for a quality Power 5 football coach and there's a real administrative commitment to being good at football. Wilson's brand of football is attractive to fans and the talent on both sides of the ball is increasing year after year. Sure, 6 wins last year might not sound like a world-beating achievement, but consider this Indiana team was two end-of-regulation 4th-and-goal situations away from beating Ohio State and Michigan last year -- as well as having Michigan State and Iowa on the ropes in the 4th quarter. Indiana's starting to play with the big boys in conference play. Or they blow 25-point 4th quarter leads to Rutgers. Whatever.
CS: This year we will see the second game of Indiana’s four-game series with FIU. It’s not often we see a P5 team play a road game against a G5 team, nonetheless a game to start the season. I’m sure the IU fans who will make the trip will be happy to to soak in the sun, but what are your thoughts on Indiana’s series with FIU and playing a G5 team on the road? Is this a thing you would like the Hoosiers and other P5 teams do more often?
CQ: It's something that I can't see being popular with the Ohio States and Michigans of the world, but I like it for Indiana. Home games undoubtedly bring in revenue for Indiana, but not like they do at those larger powerhouse programs. A series like this avoids those costly guarantee, one-off games -- it's a fiscally responsible thing to do as a program and an athletic department. But outside of the financial aspects and benefits, I like it as a football decision. Why make your first road test a high-stakes game against a big time opponent in conference play? Indiana's progressed to a point as a program where they should be able to go on the road and play the FIUs of the world and win with a less-than-perfect performance. I don't love it as the very first game ever for a brand-new quarterback, but there's nothing wrong with an out-of-conference road test against a "lesser" opponent. I like it.
CS: Nate Sudfeld has been the face of the Indiana offense for the past few years and when he’s missed time the offense looked to take a step back. Who should FIU fans expect to take snaps on the first series and be the playmakers on this year’s offense? Is there any concern that Indiana’s string of productive offenses will come to a halt this season?
CQ: Not really, no -- Indiana should be just as productive as it was during Sudfeld's tenure. Kevin Wilson's offenses by nature are extremely quarterback friendly. It's lots of single-read throws that get the ball out of the hand quickly and don't require a ton of coverage reads or to go through a full-progression. What it does require, however, is arm talent. Wilson likes big, pro-sized guys that can sling the ball all over the park. That's why Sudfeld fit so perfectly.
It's also why Indiana's offense wasn't as electric with him out of the lineup, but there's some context to that. Indiana's primary backup the past two seasons had been Zander Diamont -- a small, but hyper athletic playmaker who primarily makes plays with his feet. But when taking a majority of the snaps after Sudfeld's season ending injury in 2014, he was just a true freshman -- and a tiny one at just 165 pounds. He couldn't throw the ball downfield, basically at all. By last season, he stepped in and nearly led Indiana to victory in that Ohio State game with his legs alone. Of course, he got hurt early the next game against Penn State, and freshman Danny Cameron had to fill in. Indiana's problem without Sudfeld was a lack of arm talent and the fact they were basically starting high school kids in Big Ten games.
That won't be the case this season. Wilson's brought in 6-6, 250-pound JUCO Transfer Richard Lagow, who's already sparking memories of Sudfeld for IU fans in many ways. He's a huge dude, can throw it all over the park, and struggles with footwork at times -- just like Sudfeld. With an experienced receiving corps, one of the nation's best offensive lines, and a 1,000-rusher in the backfield, I don't really expect Indiana to skip much of a beat.
CS: Indiana has struggled on defense during Wilson’s tenure. Which position unit gives you the most cause of concern on defense? Any defensive players FIU fans should keep an eye on?
CQ: It's certainly the defensive front for Indiana as the weak spot in 2016. Indiana's best defensive player last season, Darius Latham, is now an Oakland Raider and gone from the center of a defensive line where his presence will be missed. The Hoosiers will be small and young up front, but things should be a bit better in the defensive backfield. Indiana's got a few veteran linebackers in Marcus Oliver, Tegray Scales, and TJ Simmons who were probably the "strength" (lol, right) of the defense last season. Indiana's secondary got torched in coverage often last season, but it was one of the youngest, most inexperienced groups in the country. But they've got some talent -- and the stats supported that. True freshman Jon Crawford was near the top of the Big Ten in picks and Rashard Fant lead the country in pass break-ups for a bit last season. If they've gotten better at putting themselves in a position where they can actually make a play on the ball, it'll be a good unit. I'd still expect a few blown coverages, though.
CS: What’s your prediction for the first game of the year? Is there any cause of concern from the folks in Bloomington that the trip to Miami has the makings of a potential upset?
CQ: Uhhhhh, yeah, of course there's concern. This is Indiana football we're talking about here. Anything is possible, especially with a kid starting his first ever college game on the road on a Thursday night. I think Indiana's the more talented football team, but I'd be surprised if this is a blowout. Enough first-game mistakes should keep FIU in this one for awhile -- I'll say Indiana 34, FIU 20.