Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
The 2015 edition of the Indiana Hoosiers kickoff their season on Saturday against FCS foe Southern Illinois. The expectations and stakes for this Hoosier squad are sky high. Head coach Kevin Wilson has called this team the best he has had at Indiana throughout fall camp, and should be primed to make that elusive first bowl game in his fifth season at the helm. With a senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld returning from injury and an extremely talented and experienced offensive line the Hoosiers must strike while the iron is hot. No more excuses, it's time to live up to the high expectations. Here are the keys the victory on offense for the Hoosiers on Saturday.
1. It's Time For the Line to Live Up To the Hype
The strength of the Hoosier offensive lies upfront with the big uglies in the trenches. As a whole, the unit returns 81 starts and 133 career games played and is led by senior left tackle Jason Spriggs and redshirt junior Dan Feeney. Feeney is on both the Rotary Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy Watch Lists, so the hype machine is cranking on all cylinders.
To put it bluntly, IU needs to dominate upfront. They are playing an inferior opponent from the FCS level and if they cannot open holes for Jordan Howard and Devine Redding routinely it may be an issue down the road. Bullying an FCS opponent is nothing to be too excited for, but a strong performance up front will show the fans that the hype is warranted.
2. Wide Receivers Must Catch the Ball
It seems pretty simple to say 'catch the ball, win the game' but last season was a nightmare for Hoosier receivers when it came to dropping the ball. Even, when Sudfeld was healthy they were plagued by butterfingers.
Nate Sudfeld took it upon himself to make sure his guys were working out with him in the off season. Sudfeld feels a higher comfort level with the young receivers this season and it should show when it is game time. During fall camp, from what I could tell, there were fewer balls hitting the turf.
Sophomore Simmie Cobbs, and juniors Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige are pencilled in as the starters for IU's offense. However, coach Wilson and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns will not hesitate to use eight or even nine guys if players get off to a slow start.
If the Hoosier receivers can limit the bad drops against the Salukis it should be a walk in the park victory as IU lights up the scoreboard.
3. Pass The Eye Test, Nate Sudfeld
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld has not seen a snap against another team since October 11th of last year, so it may be a bit of an unknown how he comes out of the gate. One thing's for sure, though, is that the Hoosiers cannot afford another 111-yard and no touchdown performance like he had in last season's opener against Indiana State. The Hoosiers need Sudfeld to play up to expectations. That doesn't mean he has to come out and throw for six scores and 400 yards. He just needs to pass the eye test. He should be able to complete over 65% of his passes and easily eclipse the 200-yard mark, while limiting turnovers. If Sudfeld can toss a few touchdowns in the process, that's icing on the cake for IU.
4. Cash In On Red Zone Opportunities
Last season the Hoosiers ranked 11th out of 14 in the conference in red zone efficiency scoring just 82.4% of the time. In addition they scored the second fewest touchdowns (18) in those situations in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten.
IU must take full advantage of their scoring opportunities on Saturday by punching it in from inside the 20-yard line. Good teams, bowl teams, take advantage when an opportunity is presented. The Hoosiers have been haunted by missed opportunities in the red zone all throughout Kevin Wilson's tenure. With a strong offensive line, several big, passing catching tight ends, and a power running game the Hoosiers should be able to improve upon the dismal numbers from last season.