Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Special Teams: B
Indiana head coach Tom Allen came in on a mission to turn around the Hoosiers’ special teams performance in 2017, and for the most part he did.
Place kicker Griffin Oakes earned Bog Ten Kicker of the year a year after struggling mightily as he missed just one field goal on the year and had a touchback rate of 51 percent and converted on one of his three onside kicks. Griffin Oakes ends his IU career atop many lists and re-solidified his place among the best IU kickers of all-time.
The punt game was boosted by Australian punter Haydon Whitehead who earned All-Big Ten honors in his first season playing American football. He punted 86 times for a net average of 38.6 yards per punt. Whitehead had five kicks of over 50 yards, 33 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and just five touchbacks. However, he did have one punt blocked that proved critical against Maryland. By the end of the season, Allen had put complete faith in Whitehead to win the field position battle.
Indiana also received a spark in the punt return game as J-Shun Harris became one of the best return men in the conference before being lost for the season in late October. He averaged 19 yards per return on 14 attempts and scored two touchdowns. As IU’s offense struggled down the stretch, it would have been nice to have Harris there to provide a big return. Luke Timian did an adequate job in Harris’s absence, but wasn’t the playmaker IU needed. Timian averaged 7.5 yards on 12 returns.
Where IU struggled in 2017 was in the kickoff return game. DeVonte Williams averaged a steady 18.7 yards per return, but did not have a return of more than 31 yards. That is just not the production IU needs out of the return game if they want to be an elite special teams unit. While it doesn’t all fall on Williams’ shoulders, because the blocking scheme didn’t do much either, the Hoosiers have options there going forward. Explosive freshman Whop Philyor had a chance to return three kicks and averaged 22 yards per return.
A ‘B’ is a solid grade, but special teams breakdowns against Penn State, Maryland and Purdue left a bad taste in the mouths of the Hoosier faithful and ultimately the breakdowns at Maryland cost this team a sixth win.