Written by Evan McShane (@veryreasonable)
The Indiana Hoosiers will take the field for their annual Cream and Crimson Game on Friday night at 7pm in Memorial Stadium. The game represents the 15th and final practice of the 2019 spring season.
Indiana hired Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State to replace Mike DeBord as their offensive coordinator. The Hoosier offense was in need of a shake up, and DeBoer will provide that without having to overhaul the system. DeBoer and DeBord have about as similar of an offensive scheme as they do last name. Under DeBoer, IU will still run a balanced, uptempo offense. They will still operate heavily out of the pistol formation, incorporating plenty of run-pass options. Where DeBoer differs lies in innovation and efficiency.
How can IU’s offense get more efficient when just last year quarterback Peyton Ramsey posted a near unprecedented completion percentage? It comes down to yards per pass attempt and per completion. Fresno State’s offense last year under DeBoer posted 8.5 yards per attempt and 12.4 yards per completion. This compares to just 6.4 yards per attempt and 9.7 yards per completion for IU last season. DeBoer favors taking shots downfield to maximize efficiency. He has a distinct focus on maximizing his team’s ability to succeed in the red zone and in third down. These are two areas DeBoer finds most critical to winning football and last season his offense ranked in the top 25 in the country in both categories.
It will be interesting to see how Indiana’s offense can evolve under DeBoer. Time will tell whether the differences in scheme from years past will be subtle or dramatic. The Hoosiers are adding more talent to the roster than most are used to in Bloomington. Can the addition of Kalen DeBoer help make the most of it?
Speaking of the talent in Bloomington, Tom Allen and his staff are slowly building a winning roster. The incoming 2019 recruiting class is the highest ranked group in Indiana football history, or at least since the inception of internet recruiting services around 2000. Several members of the 2019 class have already made their way to campus as early enrollees.
Three-star cornerback from Indianapolis Larry Tracey. Michael Katic, a top-60 offensive guard from Pennsylvania. Former commit and now transfer Juan Harris will get a shot to work his way into the defensive tackle rotation. Sampson James, a high profile running back from Avon, Indiana is one of the highest ranked recruits IU has ever signed. Matthew Bedford, an offensive tackle from Tennessee, might be the hidden gem of the class. Bedford was lured away from SEC country and he possess tremendous physical gifts.
Although they won’t be present, it’s worth mentioning two of the best five players in the state will join the Hoosiers in the fall, linebacker Cameron Williams from Merrillville and defensive end Beau Robbins from Carmel. These players join quarterbacks Mike Penix and Jack Tuttle, running backs Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker, and several other young playmakers who will sophomores in 2019.
These are exactly the kind of recruiting classes that are necessary for Indiana football to achieve its goals. By stocking the roster with talented players, both local and from across the country, Indiana is steadily increasing their floor. The goal, of course, is to become bowl eligible each season and grow from there. If Indiana’s young depth is any indicator, then the Hoosiers have a very promising future.
Wide receiver Donovan Hale looks to make his final college football season a memorable one. The 6-foot-4 playmaker has looked better than ever during spring practices. As a junior in 2017, Hale suffered a season ending injury and received a medical redshirt. He recovered during the offseason and played in every game last season, starting in eight. As he worked his way back to full strength, Hale was highly productive. He led the team in receiving touchdowns with six and caught 42 passes for over 500 yards.
However, after seeing the early returns from spring camp, Hale looks poised for a breakout season. His explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and his great size makes him an extremely tough cover for cornerbacks. He has looked smoother this spring and receiver’s coach Grant Heard said that Hale, “lost some weight. He probably needs to lose another five pounds, but he’s lost weight. It’s not all the pounding on his legs and carrying all that heavy weight and he’s an older guy so there is nothing that I can throw at him defensively that he hasn’t seen. He can play fast and not think. He’s a smart kid, but him losing weight has helped him tremendously.”
Now that Indiana will be prioritizing deep throws, Hale’s skillset will become even more valuable to the Hoosiers. In 2018, Hale led the team in receiving yards four times. He’s more than capable of stretching the field. Hale caught a 37-yard touchdown pass against Maryland and a 43-yard touchdown against Minnesota. Look for to be a constant threat during Saturday’s spring game and beyond.
Indiana will suffer the departures of Wes Martin, Brandon Knight, Nick Linder, and Delroy Baker from the offensive line. Hoosier fans will need to be on the lookout for some young linemen to step up and fill the void. Early enrollees Matthew Bedford and Michael Katic project to be excellent offensive linemen. Although it’s not ideal to start true freshman on the offensive line in the Big Ten, these two can plug holes in the rotation if necessary. These freshman join sophomores Caleb Jones (from Indianapolis) and Brit Beery (from Carmel). Jones has long been one of the more intriguing prospects, listed at 6-foot-8, 360lbs. This season he’ll get a chance to shine.
Juniors Harry Crider and Mackenzie Nworah will look to make their imprint on the offensive line as upperclassmen. Senior DeVondre Love played in four games last fall at tackle. He will look to play a bigger role in 2019. Indiana’s top returning offensive linemen are three seniors: Coy Cronk, Simon Stepaniak, and Hunter Littlejohn. Cronk, a Lafayette, IN native, has started in all 36 games at left tackle since he arrived in Bloomington. Cronk will look to cap off a remarkable career at Indiana. Stepaniak, an Ohio native, started all 12 games last season at right guard. He will be a stronghold at the position in 2019. Littlejohn, also an Ohio native, started four games at center last year. He will play an integral role on the O-line rotation.
With a solid balance of upperclassmen and underclassmen, Indiana’s offensive line appears to have a comfortable level of talent, depth, and experience. Anchored by three seniors, the Hoosiers hope their O-line can buy time to throw the ball downfield and get enough push up front to create running lanes. Keep an eye out for new and familiar faces in the trenches on Saturday.
Young Skill Players
Highly touted freshman running back Sampson James is working his way back to 100% health and will be limited on Saturday. Running backs Ronnie Walker and Stevie Scott will also be inactive on Saturday. However, several young skill players will get a chance to pop on offense. Wide receiver Miles Marshall came to Bloomington from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia. Marshall stands 6-foot-4, 206lbs. He hopes to emerge as a threat in the passing game as a redshirt freshman. Jacolby Hewitt is another wide receiver from Cordova High School in Tennessee. Hewitt stands 6-foot-1, 205lbs and redshirted his first year in town. Look for Hewitt and Marshall to get some action on Saturday. They have showed promise in practice and their varied skillsets would be useful to any offense.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot showed how vital his athleticism can be in the passing game. He led all tight ends with 15 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He also blocked a punt in the Ball State game. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer will find multiple ways to take advantage of Hendershot’s size, speed, and strength. 6-foot-5, 256lbs tight end TJ Ivy redshirted last season. As a redshirt freshman, he looks to challenge Hendershot and others for playing time. The Hoosiers will have plenty of opportunities for young players to emerge on offense. Who will be up to the task?