Written by: TJ Inman
The Hoosier Huddle staff entered the 2015 season with one goal in mind for the IU football program: make a bowl game. It wasn’t always pretty and it was often quite frustrating but the Hoosiers won all four non-conference games and then hammered Maryland and Purdue to reach six wins and play in a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
IU lost a heartbreaker in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl as they fell 44-41 in overtime to the Duke Blue Devils and finished the year at 6-7. Overall, the season can be considered a success but make no mistake, the Hoosiers left some wins on the table and there are plenty of things that must be improved upon if they are to continue to progress as a program. We’ll have a lot of season review content before we wade into the murky waters of the offseason. The first piece of that review coverage is this broad look at some of the standout games, performances, players and more from the 2015 Indiana football season.
The Hoosiers went 4-0 during the month of September as they swept the non-conference slate with victories over Southern Illinois, Florida International, Wake Forest and Western Kentucky.
The season got off to a very rocky start as the Hoosiers were very fortunate to escape what would have been an embarrassing and disastrous loss to the Southern Illinois Salukis. SIU failed on a two-point conversion late in the game and the Hoosiers pulled out a 48-47 shootout that would be a foreshadowing of the defensive struggles that would plague IU all season. The Hoosiers performed much better in the second game of the season as they controlled the Florida International Panthers in a 36-22 victory and then hosted Western Kentucky on September 19.
Game of the Month: Indiana 38 – Western Kentucky 35
For those that don’t religiously follow college football, this win may not seem all that important. After all, shouldn’t a B1G team expect to beat an opponent from Conference USA? The short answer is yes but the WKU Hilltoppers were a very impressive opponent that ended up having a very impressive season. Western Kentucky ended up going 12-2 and winning C-USA and the Miami Beach Bowl. Their only other loss of the season came at the hands of then #5 LSU in Baton Rouge.
The Hoosiers tallied 639 yards as Jordan Howard gained 203 yards on the ground and Nate Sudfeld threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for IU. However, the game really turned on a pair of plays made by the defense. Freshman safety Jonathan Crawford introduced himself to Hoosier fans with back-to-back interceptions of quarterback Brandon Doughty. Those interceptions led to 14 points as IU outscored WKU 21-0 in the third quarter (a trend that would continue all season) and then held on to improve to 3-0 on the season.
The Hoosiers finished off the month of September with a 31-24 victory in Winston-Salem over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Hoosiers were comfortably ahead before a late rally gave the home team a chance to pull off the improbably victory on a Hail Mary. Thankfully, the pass fell incomplete and IU headed into October at 4-0.
Player of the Month: Jordan Howard
The transfer from UAB burst onto the national scene and quickly put to rest any doubts about IU’s running attack with a tremendous month of September. He carried the ball 20 times for 145 yards (7.3 average) and three touchdowns against Southern Illinois, had 159 yards and 27 carries (5.9 average), 203 yards on 31 carries against WKU (6.5 yard average) and then finished the month with 168 yards and a touchdown at Wake Forest. The bruising tailback was over five yards a carry in all four games and ended up averaging nearly 169 yards per game. If he could have stayed healthy…well, why torture ourselves with “what-ifs”? It’s safe to say though that he was setup for a special season.
After beginning the season with a perfect 4-0 record, the Hoosiers entered October (and B1G play) with some momentum and a very big contest under the lights.
Game of the Month: Indiana – 27 vs. #1 Ohio State 34
Both squads came into the game at 4-0 as the defending national champions invaded Bloomington to begin B1G play. This was one of the more anticipated football games that Memorial Stadium has hosted in quite some time and it did not disappoint. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 10-0 lead as Griffin Oakes connected on a 34-yard field goal and Devine Redding capped off a 15 play, 80 yard drive with a one-yard dive into the end zone. Ohio State answered with a pair of field goals and then took the lead for the first time in the third quarter as Ezekiel Elliott scampered for a 55-yard touchdown run. The Hoosiers responded with another Devine Redding touchdown, this one from 11 yards out, to go back ahead 17-13 but both Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard were lost to injury and IU offense was sputtering while the defense was tiring. The Buckeyes got another big run from Elliott (65 yarder) as they took the lead and then Cardale Jones found Michael Thomas for a 23 yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Ohio State led 27-17 and appeared poised to pull away for a comfortable victory.
The resilient Hoosiers had other ideas though as Griffin Oakes hit a 34-yard field goal. Ezekiel Elliott scored for the third time on yet another long run (75 yards) but Zander Diamont quickly answered as he stunned Ohio State with a burst down the sideline for a 79-yard score to cut the deficit to 7 (34-27). The Hoosiers had a chance to tie the game as they marched inside the Ohio State ten-yard line but the final play fell incomplete as Diamont was forced to scramble and heave to the end zone in desperation. The #1 Buckeyes survived with a 34-27 victory but it’s a game that proved the Hoosiers were capable of playing with the conference’s best and an evening that many won’t soon forget.
The loss to Ohio State dropped the Hoosiers to 4-1 (0-1) and was a precursor for the remainder of October. Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld were both unavailable for the next game and the Hoosiers played their worst game of the season, falling in Happy Valley to Penn State, 29-7. The 4-2 Hoosiers returned home and appeared to be in great shape for a rebound win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights but they completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. Rutgers hit a field goal as time expired and the Hoosiers dropped to 4-3 (0-3) with a 55-52 defeat. It was now very clear that the defense was incapable of stopping big plays and they finished the month with another late game collapse as a very competitive game against then #7 Michigan State in East Lansing ended up in a 52-26 defeat. The Spartans scored 21 points in the game’s final five minutes as IU coughed up the ball on back-to-back plays. The Hoosiers were now 4-4 (0-4) and the season was hanging in the balance heading to November.
Player of the Month: Marcus Oliver
It was not easy to select a “Player of the Month” for this game. However, I went with the leading tackler on the season and a true standout on the defense, Marcus Oliver. Oliver, a sophomore from Hamilton, Ohio, ended up with 112 tackles (Crawford was second on the team with 76) and he had a pair of strong games in October. At Penn State, he helped the Hoosiers stay competitive with 13 tackles and one pass defended. He followed that up with 14 tackles (including 12 solo) and one interception against Rutgers. He also had six tackles against Ohio State and seven tackles against Michigan State.
IU’s losing streak reached five as the Hoosiers played another top team close but came up short as Iowa knocked them off, 35-27. The 4-5 Hoosiers then hosted the red-hot Michigan Wolverines and their new coach Jim Harbaugh. The two sides traded blows in what would become an instant classic (and November’s Game of the Month).
Game of the Month: The Michigan Wolverines entered this game at 7-2 and playing as well as nearly anyone in the country. They stormed out to a 21-9 lead as Jake Rudock connected with Jehu Chesson for three touchdowns in the first half. However, the Hoosiers fought back with a trio of field goals from Griffin Oakes and a receiving touchdown from Jordan Howard. Kenny Allen hit a short field goal as time expired on the first half and Michigan went into the locker room ahead 24-16. IU was good in the third quarter all season and this game was no different. Mitchell Paige pulled IU within one with a punt return for a touchdown and Griffin Oakes gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the game at 26-24. Michigan answered with a field goal but Jordan Howard hammered in a 24-yard touchdown run as IU ran the ball at will on Michigan’s vaunted defense (238 yards for Howard). Michigan’s Jake Rudock came up with many huge plays on the day but none were bigger than his five-yard touchdown pass to Chesson (again!) on the final play of regulation as Michigan scored to send the game to overtime. The two sides traded touchdowns in the first OT and Amara Darboh caught a touchdown pass on the first play of the second overtime. Michigan’s defense came up with a goal-line stand on IU’s possession and the Wolverines survived a major scare and sent the Hoosiers to a sixth straight defeat.
The loss dropped Indiana to 4-6 (0-6) and meant they needed to go win back-to-back road games to close out the season if they were to play in a bowl. They fell behind at Maryland and Jordan Howard was injured yet again. Things looked bleak for the Hoosiers. Then Nate Sudfeld picked up his team and carried them to finish line. Sudfeld exploded for 385 yards and four touchdowns against the Terrapins and the Hoosiers outscored Maryland 44-7 over the game’s final 47 minutes. They carried that momentum over as they pounced on Purdue early and downed the Boilers 54-36 in a comfortable victory. The win gave the Hoosiers their sixth victory, earning them bowl eligibility and giving them the Old Oaken Bucket for the third straight year (first time since the 1940s).
Player of the Month: Nate Sudfeld
Sudfeld struggled against the Iowa Hawkeyes and their excellent secondary as he only threw for 180 yards and one score but he was tremendous in the other three games in November. His team desperately needed him and he stepped up big time, cementing his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks to ever wear the Cream and Crimson. He threw for 220 yards and one touchdown and had no turnovers against Michigan, tore apart Maryland with 385 yards with four touchdowns and then drilled the Purdue Boilermakers for 350 yards and four touchdowns (plus a rushing touchdown).
Mr. Consistency Award: The Offensive Line
This is certainly not a comprehensive “awards” article (although we’ll do something of that ilk in the near future) but I feel it would be incredibly unfair to do a season review without mentioning the strength of IU’s program.
The Indiana Hoosiers were supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the B1G and perhaps in the country. While there were a couple of less than great games (although never horrible), the line did not disappoint. Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney earned the individual honors but I am recognizing the whole line in this space because they all deserve it. Jake Reed, Dimitri Camiel, Wes Martin, Spriggs and Feeney had a terrific season as a unit (although Camiel struggled with penalties at times and Martin was not good in some contests) in both run-blocking and pass-blocking. They had the ninth best adjusted sack rate and helped a dominant run-game excel. Recognition should be given to the tight ends that helped block and guys like Brandon Knight and Wes Rogers that were used at various times. Under Kevin Wilson and O-Line coach Greg Frey, the Hoosiers have become a school that consistently churns out good offensive lines and that should continue in 2016.
Hoosier Huddle will continue recapping the Pinstripe Bowl and rehashing the 2015 season. We are also your place to go for any and all recruiting news and offseason coverage so keep on checking in for more great content.