The 2013 football season is one of uncertainty for the Indiana Hoosiers, while there is hope around the program there are many questions left to be answered heading into the season. No facets of the game are without their question marks. This week we will delve deeper into the 10 questions facing the Hoosiers in 2013.
10. Who is going to lead the defensive line?
The Hoosier defense has been something of a question mark overall for quite sometime. However in 2012, the defensive line, especially the interior was a strength. The unit was led by a pair of senior defensive tackles who were a force to reckon with up the middle. Adam Replogle and Larry Black combined for 25 Tackles for Loss, 9 of which were sacks.
The question comes in 2013 with the duo both having graduated, and not much production being left behind. The returning defensive lineman combined for just 9.5 sacks last season, lead by defensive end Ryan Phillis’ 3 quarterback takedowns. If the Hoosiers want to make any strides on the defensive end it is going to start on the line. They need to be able to generate pressure on the quarterback to force bad decisions, hopefully leading to big plays.
While the tackles from last season have moved on, both starting defensive ends, including Phillis, return for the 2013 campaign. Phillis has now started 16 straight games, including all 12 contests last season. As a redshirt junior entering his fourth year in the program it will be the Boardman, Ohio native who will shoulder the leadership role on the defensive front. While Phillis had a productive 2012 season recording 34 tackles including 3 sacks, the Hoosiers will need him to take the next step and become dominant at times as an edge rusher.
9. Can the punting game improve?
While punting is never a sexy topic to cover, it remains one of the most important plays in the game. It sets up the starting field position for opponents drives and directly correlates to the success of your opponents offense and in turn your teams defense.
Last year the Hoosiers relied on two first year players to fill this important role. Mitchell Voss earned the starting job exiting fall camp. He punted 22 times for a 37.2-yard average before suffering a season-ending injury. While his punting average was far from impressive, he was able to drop eight punts inside the 20-yard line.
After Voss’ injury the Hoosier punting torch was passed to Erich Toth. The freshman was not ready to step up to the plate. When compared to his counterparts from the Big Ten, Toth finished ninth in terms of punting average with an uninspiring 39.5 yards per attempt. There was not even the occasional rocket that popped off the Indianapolis natives’ foot, as his long on the year was just 51 yards. For those who are not familiar with punting statistics, only two other punters had longs in the 50’s at all, while Toth’s barely even made it there.
It is not as Indiana is a team who rarely finds themselves in punting situations. In 2012 Toth averaged 6 punts per game in his eight appearances. Toth will have a chance to prove himself again in 2013 as a returning starter.
You would have to believe that having eight games of experience under his belt combined with a full set of spring and fall camps, as the starter should rear improvement for the punter. While it very well could be another year of very average punting at best, I would say that a modest improvement is the more likely scenario to play out.
8. How much can the Hoosiers improve from being statistically the worst Big Ten defense in 2012?
The Hoosiers have struggled historically on the defensive side of the football. They took it to a whole new level last season when they finished last in the Big Ten in three of the four major defensive categories. Power teams, such as Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State, had their way and rolled over Indiana. In the final three contests of the season it really bottomed out as they allowed just over 54 points per game.
With all that negativity, there are two major positives heading into the future. Immediately, the Hoosiers will be more experienced in 2013, as they return 13 of their top 15 tacklers including nine starters. Senior safety Greg Heban leads the way and will take on the leadership role vacated by departing tackles Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle. He will have help in front of him in junior linebacker David Cooper who racked up 86 tackles in his first season with the Hoosiers after transferring from junior college.
The experience is not the only thing that Indiana’s staff should hang their hat on heading into the season as far as the defense is concerned. There is a youth movement going on in Bloomington on that side of the ball after Wilson brought in arguably the best recruiting class in the programs history during the offseason. Freshman standouts such as tackle Darius Latham, corner Antonio Allen, and end David Kenney could all see substantial playing time in their first year on campus. In addition the Hoosiers have also brought in a pair transfers from the 2012 NCAA National Champion Iowa Western Community College in Steven Funderburk and Jordan Heiderman.
I think the Hoosiers would be hard pressed to climb into the top half of the rankings as far as defense in the Big Ten is concerned. However, to see them move out of the cellar and up to a respectable placement, such as seventh or eighth in the conference should not be too much to ask.
7. Can Mitch Ewald finally live up to the hype?
I know your rolling your eyes, another question dedicated to kicking. Yes, it is that important.
Mitch Ewald is entering his fifth year as a member of the Indiana Hoosier football program. It is the fourth year where he will be called upon to be the lead kicker for the team. 2013 marks the third consecutive season that the kicker was named to the preseason Lou Groza Award watch list.
However, with all of his experience, and the expectations that come with it, Ewald has yet to be anything more than an Honorable mention All-Big Ten kicker. In 2012 he took a step back as he connected on just 15-of-20 field goals including one that was blocked. He also missed an extra point, which snapped a streak of 100 consecutive PATs converted.
By no means is Mitch Ewald a problem for this Hoosier squad. He performs admirably on kick off duties placing second in the Big Ten in touchbacks. However, being solid is not what is expected of a player who is described by his head coach as “an NFL-type player.” Ewald also has yet to display a particularly strong leg as a field goal kicker either. He has never converted an attempt of 50-yards or over, ad his long last season was 46 yards placing him in tied for ninth in the conference.
Again, this is not meant to be a Mitch Ewald bashing. As nauseating as it is to say, Ewald as a kicker has been one of the brightest spots on the Hoosier roster during his time with the team. What he does need to do however is take the next step and transform into the stud kicker that everyone believes he has the ability to become.
I believe that Ewald will revert back to his form in his first two years on the job where he converted his field goal attempts at a rate of over 80 percent, and didn’t miss an extra point. It will be interesting to see what type of workload he encounters in his senior season, as he has never attempted more than 20 field goals in a season.
6. Will Stephen Houston finally put an end to the 1,000-yard slump for Indiana?
First and foremost, lets discuss the 1,000-yard mark. It is a completely arbitrary number that holds no true significance when it comes to the success of a running back. That being said, it is a mark that should not be so unattainable for a Big Ten level program. If a team plays the minimum 12 game regular season, a running back needs to average just 83.3 yards per game on the ground. If that team makes a bowl game that running back needs to pick up just 76.9 rushing yards per contest.
I am not saying that being a consistent back week in, and week out is something to sneeze at. However, the idea that the 1,000-yard mark is this lofty achievement is far from the truth. In fact five different Big Ten running backs realized the accomplishment just last season. By comparison, Stephen Houston finished 15th in the conference in rushing yards.
The biggest difference between Houston and those thousand yard rushers is not their talent level; it’s their number of carries. Of those five backs none received less than 200 caries on the season, with Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell leading the way with 382. By comparison as the lead Hoosier running back Houston carried the ball just 161 times. In eight of the Hoosiers’ twelve games Houston carried the ball a dozen times or less. Not only does the amount of carries directly affect the amount of yardage a back will gain, sporadic usage doesn’t allow a rusher to get into a rhythm needed to play at his full potential.
With the Hoosiers hypothetically winning more games, and being in a larger number of close contests, clock control, and risk avoidance will come into play more often. Therefore, Houston’s numbers should rise. Based on his per carry average from last season of 4.7 yards, he would only need an extra 53 carries on the year to pass the 1,000-yard mark. That would put Houston at a very manageable 214 carries on the season, while allowing the Hoosier offense to become even more versatile.
Make sure you check back later in the week for Questions 1-5.
Make sure to check back later in the week for Questions 1-5.