Witten by Evan McShane
Tom Allen got his guy when he hired Kalen DeBoer as Indiana’s new offensive coordinator. DeBoer has worked his way up the college football ladder and experienced success at multiple levels. Similar to Allen’s track record as a defensive coordinator, DeBoer has a history of successfully turning around several offensive units in a short amount of time. He also prides himself on going beyond football in terms of his coaching duties. “It's about the relationships that you can have with young men and giving them the greatest experience, they can have in their life or one of the greatest experiences,” DeBoer told reporters, “and that’s why I coach.” Kalen DeBoer is now, in Allen’s words, the Hoosiers’ head coach of the offense.
Before diving into DeBoer’s offensive philosophies, it’s worth nothing some of his dramatic impact at previous coaching stops. At the NAIA level, DeBoer won three Coach of the Year Awards, three championships, and boasted a 67-3 win-loss record. As an offensive coordinator for Southern Illinois, DeBoer’s 2011 offense ranked third in the nation in rushing yards. Two years later, DeBoer adapted to his personnel and guided his offense atop the Missouri Valley Conference in passing yards per game.
DeBoer transitioned to Eastern Michigan where he engineered one of the largest offensive turnarounds in college football. Per IUHoosiers.com, DeBoer’s Eastern Michigan offense bested the program’s previous total offense mark by over 900 yards (5,917 compared to 5,010) and set records for points scored (385), passing yardage (3,849), touchdown passes (25), first downs (303), completions (309) and total plays (999). DeBoer continued these trends at Fresno State where his offenses finished in the top-20 nationally in passing efficiency, red zone offense, and third-down conversions.
So, how does Kalen DeBoer consistently put his players in position to succeed? It starts with taking care of the football and generating more explosive plays than the opponent. DeBoer declared, “when you do that, you're going to win over 90 percent of the time. You know, we want to make sure we're putting the points on the board, but we're also not so reckless that we're putting our defense in a vulnerable position.” DeBoer hit on all the right notes during his press conference as he highlighted the need be successful in the red zone and on third down – two areas where Indiana has struggled in years past. DeBoer clearly has a good feel for how modern college offenses should operate.
DeBoer will demand physicality from his offense. He elaborates, “a lot of people think that means running the football, but that's also what you do with the ball after you have it in your hands.” DeBoer spoke about fostering a culture with an aggressive mentality. He is keenly aware of how important offensive efficiency is to overall team success. Winning battles on key areas of the field during key moments are a major priority for DeBoer. “Falling ahead for extra yards gives you better down and distances to work with, which makes for better third-down conversions and higher red zone [percentage].” Ultimately, DeBoer says, “it comes down to creating an attitude – and you don’t install it with plays.”
IU fans should feel confident that Kalen DeBoer can connect with the players on this roster. “You know, a lot of plays are kind of cool and guys like those and they can feel it, and they know it's going to be big, but in the end, it's how you manipulate it and how you create the attitude that I think ends up with a product on the field that's exciting to watch.” DeBoer truly takes pride in the development of his players on and off the field. It’s obvious that he cares deeply about his players and the relationships he’ll build with them. “I've had some guys that have come up, a lot of them have been seniors, because they understand the urgency of their career right now, and it's coming to an end, and every day is one closer to their last days wearing an IU football helmet. Really looking forward to giving those guys that experience.” DeBoer can’t wait to tap into the potential in Indiana’s roster and recruiting class.
More specifically, the offensive attitude DeBoer described will revolve around building toward explosive plays. DeBoer mentioned a consistent running game as a necessity to setup play action. “Play action always doesn't have to be shots down the field, but it should open that up,” DeBoer said.
He alluded to some of IU’s weapons, “we've got some big receivers from what I've seen that can go up and get the football and some guys that can get it down the field, as well.” DeBoer stressed urgency on offense without becoming reckless. It’s about picking the right spots to attack, he says, “We want to have the ability to speed things up and play with some tempo. When you know you've got them or when it's the right time or you need a little kick start, there's a lot of different reasons why you do that.”
DeBoer had a nice set of weapons on offense at Fresno State led by Marcus McMaryion, a 6-foot-2 quarterback who thrived through the air. Although recruiting rankings don’t tell the full tale, it’s worth noting that both Indiana quarterbacks Jack Tuttle and Michael Penix Jr. were viewed as higher rated prospects coming out of high school. DeBoer’s overall approach on offense is based on a balanced attack dedicated to a consistent run game which sets up the play action and other means to attack downfield.
DeBoer’s vision for the offense is backed by data. Statistically, Fresno State’s offense under DeBoer flourished. The Bulldogs finished 26th in the country in scoring offense averaging 34.6 points per game – over a touchdown more than what the Hoosiers managed to score last year (26.4). One might think that Indiana at least boasted an efficient offense last season thanks to quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s often lauded completion percentage. This idea is wholly inaccurate. Fresno State’s passing efficiency ranked 8th in the country last season while Indiana ranked 85th, per NCAA.com.
How is this possible? It comes down to yards per attempt and yards per completion. Fresno State posted 8.50 yards per pass attempt (compared to Indiana’s paltry 6.43) and they generated a whopping 12.43 yards per completion (compared to just 9.79 yards for the Hoosiers). DeBoer’s offenses made the most of their passing opportunities. This is a byproduct of stretching the field and taking shots downfield; something Indiana hasn’t been able to do for some time. Fresno finished 6th in the nation in completion percentage while IU placed 13th. DeBoer prioritizes pushing the ball downfield; however, he is selectively aggressive in how he attacks the field and that will likely be the biggest difference for Indiana compared to the past two seasons.
Another refreshing aspect of DeBoer’s coaching is his emphasis two of the most important areas in football: third-down and the red zone. His Bulldogs finished 25th in the country in third-down conversion percentage and 19th in the nation in red zone success rate. Fresno scored on nearly 90% of its red zone trips while Hoosier fans saw IU convert on just 81.8%. Fresno State’s success with DeBoer manning OC duties is also supported by advanced metrics. In 2018, the Bulldogs ranked 30th in total offense per the S&P+ ratings. In contrast, Indiana ranked 71st in the same category last season. DeBoer’s offense ranked in the top-20 in offensive success rate – an efficiency measurement that takes into account yardage gained on each down. Much to the delight of Hoosier fans, it should be noted that Fresno’s passing offense ranked 16th in the nation according to S&P. Again, the numbers don’t always tell the story, but perhaps they can give a glimpse into what the Hoosiers could accomplish with DeBoer.
As DeBoer alluded to earlier, Indiana has a slew of big bodied wide receivers capable of high-level production. The idea is that Kalen DeBoer will be able to get the ball downfield in the hands of Indiana’s top playmakers. Guys like Whop Philyor, Reese Taylor, and Nick Westbrook should see an immediate benefit from Deboer’s philosophy. The Hoosiers also have a deep backfield led by Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker with incoming talent like Sampson James. Indiana hopes to benefit from what should be a stiff quarterback competition between Jack Tuttle, Mike Penix, and Peyton Ramsey. The cabinet is far from empty, so to speak. Kalen DeBoer will have plenty to work with in his first season as offensive coordinator and Hoosier fans have plenty to be excited about. Indiana has found its head coach of the offense.