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The Indiana Hoosiers And The Ever-Lasting Game of Catch-Up

After the rare double coaching carousel (one for the head coach, one for assistants), Kevin Wilson assumes the low throne in Indiana. Will he find enough talent to run the aggressive system he and his staff would prefer to run?

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

Lots of teams go through coaching searches, but rarely do teams experience two different levels of the coaching carousel in the same season.  But when Indiana decided not to retain Bill Lynch this past offseason and hired former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, that's what happened.  They hired Wilson, Wilson brought some rather interesting assistants aboard ... and then a lot of those assistants left for different/better jobs before coaching a game ... or even a practice.

Boise State receivers coach Brent Pease accepted the offensive coordinator position and held it for 11 days before returning to Boise as their offensive coordinator when Texas hired away Bryan Harsin.  Utah State cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond accepted the same position under Wilson ... then got snatched up by Bo Pelini and Nebraska.  Jerry Montgomery was defensive tackles coach at Wyoming, then took the same position in Bloomington ... and 18 days later, he took the same position in Ann Arbor.  Running backs coach Jemal Singleton held the position for all of three days before being snatched away by Oklahoma State.  It is what it is, I guess.

So now the dust has settled, and Wilson has quite frankly still put together a really interesting staff.  He brings to the table a history of exciting, ridiculously fast-paced offenses, and his defensive coaches are known for ferocity and attacking.  It all seems to work well in theory ... now will he have the talent in crimson and white to actually do anything interesting, or will Wilson's tenure die in the conceptual stage?

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk**: 88
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
2-Sep Towson 51-17 W 23.2 - 40.6 L
18-Sep at Western Kentucky 38-21 W 34.9 - 35.9 L
25-Sep Akron 35-20 W 34.1 - 39.4 L
2-Oct Michigan 35-42 L 27.4 - 41.3 L
9-Oct at Ohio State 10-38 L 19.5 - 34.2 L
16-Oct Arkansas State 36-34 W 27.4 - 33.1 L
23-Oct at Illinois 13-43 L 16.3 - 26.6 L
30-Oct Northwestern 17-20 L 19.2 - 25.8 L
6-Nov Iowa 13-18 L 31.0 - 27.0 W
13-Nov at Wisconsin 20-83 L 19.6 - 39.1 L
20-Nov Penn State 24-41 L 30.8 - 35.8 L
27-Nov at Purdue 34-31 W 26.6 - 34.0 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 27.2 56 34.0 102
Adj. Points Per Game 25.8 73 34.4 118

Eighty-three points.  Eighty-three!  Six months later, I still haven't gotten over Wisconsin -- Wisconsin! -- scoring 83 points on Bill Lynch's Hoosiers.  (I also really haven't gotten over the Badgers throwing a deep bomb halfway through the fourth quarter for points 70-76, but I'll live.)  Lynch simultaneously did a great and terrible job of coaching in 2010.  He built a team that was borderline unstable on offense and horrid on defense ... and yet he almost steered that awful team to a bowl game.  Indiana started 4-2, finished with an overtime win over Purdue, and all but beat Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa (and I do mean all but beat Iowa); just one more win would have gotten them to bowl eligibility.  It speaks of how ridiculously easy Indiana's non-conference slate was, but it also speaks at least a little to a decent base of talent ... I think.  Maybe.  We'll see.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 55 52 56
RUSHING 101 101 96 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 41 23 50 103
Standard Downs 91 87 89 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 26 28 26 11
Redzone 61 63 56
Q1 Rk 58 1st Down Rk 88
Q2 Rk 56 2nd Down Rk 56
Q3 Rk 72 3rd Down Rk 51
Q4 Rk 84

Kevin Wilson's record at Oklahoma suggests he really, really likes to push the pace if given the opportunity.  OU has consistently played at or near the highest pace in the country, even playing at a faster rate than Oregon last year.  The question, of course, is will he be able to with the talent he inherits?

Wilson is only going to go no-huddle, full-throttle if the offense is moving the chains, but signs are at least not completely discouraging.  A glance at Indiana's offensive footprint from last year suggests they're used to playing at a faster-than-normal tempo, and they're certainly used to throwing a ton on passing downs; both were obvious aspects of Oklahoma's personality with Wilson as offensive coordinator.

Indiana really did go all-in with the pass in 2010, either because of a) philosophy, b) an absolutely horrendous running game, or c) the fact that they were behind a lot.  Or, of course, d) all of the above.  At Oklahoma, Wilson put a lot of responsibility onto Landry Jones' shoulders on passing downs, running a healthy amount on standard downs but throwing a ton and attempting to make plays on passing downs.  Indiana did a lot of the same thing, albeit with much less impressive results.  A solid offensive line was able to keep quarterback Ben Chappell upright for the most part, and despite some losses in the receiving corps, whoever replaces Chappell in the starting lineup -- sophomore Dusty Kiel? Edward Wright-Baker? -- should be able to maintain some level of success in 2011

Other tidbits:

  • The receiving corps loses Tandon Doss (706 yards, 11.2/catch, 6.2/target, 56% catch, 7 touchdowns; NFL draft early entry) and Terrance Turner (681 yards, 10.2/catch, 7.4/target, 73% catch, 3 touchdowns), but they do return their leading receiver (Demario Belcher -- 832 yards, 58% catch rate), an interesting tight end (Ted Bolser -- 407 yards, 71% catch rate) and a potentially interesting new No. 2 receiver (Duwyce Wilson -- 488 yards, 15.2/catch, 67% catch rate).
  • I haven't said a word about running back Darius Willis yet because at this point I have no idea what to expect from him.  He tore his patellar tendon and played just five games last year ... but he was only semi-impressive in those five games.  Against Akron and Western Kentucky, for instance, he carried the ball a combined 32 times for just 117 yards (3.7/carry).  For the season, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry (278 total yards) and managed a +0.3 Adj. POE; he posted a +6.5 Adj. POE in 2009, meaning he's got a decent ceiling, but between the injury and the fact that he'll be suspended to start the season ... we'll see what Wilson gets out of him in 2011.  Obviously Oklahoma's offense was at its best when there was a strong run threat, but Willis is the only known quantity; and he's really not that known.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 111 91 116
RUSHING 72 59 88 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 115 107 114 62
Standard Downs 106 90 106 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 118 114 118 92
Redzone 80 90 69
Q1 Rk 98 1st Down Rk 105
Q2 Rk 117 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 68 3rd Down Rk 117
Q4 Rk 117

Kevin Wilson's offensive approach has always been smart and aggressive; with Pelini disciple Mike Ekeler in charge of the defense, you could see plenty of aggression too.  Ekeler comes to Bloomington from Lincoln, where he was defensive co-coordinator for Nebraska; Nebraska's style was attractive and exciting, blowing up offenses from the middle on standard downs and blowing up everything on passing downs.  Considering Indiana had the third-worst passing downs defense in the country last year -- including mid-majors -- that has to sound rather attractive.  But it's the same question as with the offense: is there enough talent to do what Ekeler and company want to do?

We'll start with the positive.  The front seven, which put together a decent run defense, loses linebacker Tyler Replogle (67.5 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks) and end Terance Thomas (24.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks) but returns 'backers Leon Beckum and Jeff Thomas (118.5 combined tackles, 16.5 combined TFL/sacks), end Darius Johnson (7.0 TFL/sacks) and tackles Adam Replogle and Mick Mentzer (7.5 combined TFL/sacks).  They might be able to hold steady and post at least similar numbers on the ground as they did last year.

The problem, of course, was in the air.  As the run-pass ratios show above, opponents got around Indiana's solid run defense by simply passing more.  Indiana's line may have been decent against the run, but it produced little discernible pass rush, and blitzes didn't help.  The pass defense was horribly inefficient and even worse in terms of preventing big plays, and though this isn't the end of the world -- it's hard to get too worked up about lost starters when areas of the D were this bad -- both starting cornerbacks (Richard Council and Matt Ernest) and the starting strong safety (Mitchell Evans) are gone.  Free safety Donnell Jones (40.0 tackles, 5 PBU) returns, though I assume Hoosier fans wouldn't mind the thought of others overtaking him as well.

Other tidbits:

  • One interesting player to watch could be safety Greg Heban (32.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 5 PBU), who proved a little more aggressive than other options in the secondary.
  • Is there any immediate help coming via recruiting?  Not really.  Wilson's first patched-together recruiting class included no help at defensive end and no immediate stars at tackle.  The gem of the class was four-star linebacker Zack Shaw; there is yet another Replogle to throw into the mix as well.

Indiana's 2010 Season Set to Music

For those who don't think John Mayer is just awful, we'll go with his "83."  For the rest of you, we'll go with Jimi Hendrix's weird "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)."  Because ... 83!  Eighty-three points!

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here.  Not sure this qualifies as a "fun" tidbit per say...

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's
Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 80
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 72
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -7 / -4.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +2.2

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?  An optimist sees a decent passing offense, a reasonably healthy number of returning starters, an encouraging YPP margin, and the fact that Indiana almost made a bowl despite a cripplingly bad defense.  (Hmm, spell check is telling me "cripplingly" is actually a real word.  I was not expecting that.)  An optimist also would see that the Hoosiers' 2011 schedule really isn't that much more difficult than last year's.  Virginia is better than anybody they played in non-con last year, but Virginia still isn't very good, and the game's at home.  So if the Hoosiers can go 4-0 out of conference and knock off Purdue again, they're right back within one game of bowl eligibility!

A pessimist sees a defense that was truly, truly awful, an offense that was one-dimensional (with a running game that isn't just guaranteed to be better this year), a coaching staff that will be handcuffed by the talent (or lack thereof) on hand, a turnover margin that isn't guaranteed to improve, and a schedule that, while not devastating, is still indeed a little tougher.

I've always been a big Kevin Wilson fan, and I admire him for taking on this building (salvaging?) project.  But I cannot say I am tremendously optimistic for Wilson's chances of success any time soon.  I assume I'm probably not the only one who feels that way.  The Hoosiers are playing catch-up in terms of their level of talent, playing catch-up in terms of facilities, and ... just playing catch-up, period.




* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

***** Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.