There is little doubt that Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson wants to spread out its opponents.
This past January, Wilson brought in Seth Littrell, a Mike Leach disciple, as offensive coordinator. Littrell came to Bloomington from the University of Arizona where his Wildcats ranked third nationally in passing offense (370.8). Of course, Littrell benefitted from a once-in-a-generation quarterback in Nick Foles, who is now impressing Philadelphia Eagles fans as the heir apparent to Michael Vick.
While Littrell’s spread offense is sure to rack up more passing yards for a unit that completed 55 percent of its passes last year, the Hoosiers have not forgotten about their running game. Indiana has three backs who are pushing each other for playing time and racking up yards in the process. Against Indiana State, the Hoosiers had 204 yards rushing at an impressive 5.5 yards-per-rush clip.
Indiana’s offense is going to be a different animal than UConn’s. The Huskies attempted to grind it out on the ground while testing UMass’ cornerbacks in the flats. If Littrell has his way, Indiana will spread UMass’ defense while attempting to get steady production out of its seemingly improved running game.
Tre Roberson is a star in waiting, but if he doesn’t shine soon, he could lose his job.
Roberson, a sophomore, is a dual-threat quarterback who started nine games for Indiana last year. He was the first true freshman to start at quarterback in Indiana history. His numbers through there air were less-than impressive (937 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions), but his ability to run makes him a problem for opposing defenses (426 yards).
While UConn’s Chandler Whitmer was more of a pocket passer, Roberson will give UMass’ defensive ends and linebackers something to worry about when coverage breaks down. He has the ability to make plays on his feet and appears to be more poised than last year. Against Indiana State, Roberson completed more than 70 percent of his passes and didn’t throw an interception. He was a little more reserved on the ground and only accumulated 19 yards on seven rushes.
If Roberson fails, JUCO-transfer Cameron Coffman appears to be more than ready to fill in. Coffman played well in Indiana’s Spring Game, and by multiple accounts has a stronger arm. Coffman had major offers coming out of high school, but he opted to play one year at Arizona Western where he threw for 2,244 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Indiana’s wide receivers are a strong point for the offense – so long as everyone is healthy, and no one is suspended.
Kofi Hughes led the team with 35 catches last year and is a quality receiver in the slot. However, Hughes missed Indiana’s first game after a one-game suspension. Hughes is listed as a backup for this weekend’s game, but there is little doubt that the 6’2, 210-pound junior will see a lot of reps against the Minutemen.
Coming into the season, Hughes was supposed to benefit from the presence of Duwyce Wilson, who returned to the squad after recovering from knee surgery. Wilson appeared to be in game shape during week one and had five catches for more than 50 yards against the Sycamores. In eight games last year, Wilson had more than 200 yards receiving. Wilson has size – 6’3, 195 pounds – that could be an issue for UMass’ smaller cornerbacks.
Sophomore Shane Wynn is listed as Indiana’s No. 1 receiver, and did everything in his power to keep that label. Wynn led the team with 95 yards receiving and a touchdown against Indiana State, and the 5’7 speedster looks to improve upon his 197 yards receiving last year. Wynn was one of the crown jewels of Indiana’s 2011 recruiting class and chose the Hoosiers over a number of big-time programs, including Michigan, Miami, USC and Tennessee.
Cody Latimer, also a sophomore, is a steady option for the Hoosiers and had 40 yards receiving against Indiana State. Latimer has the size (6’3, 210 pounds) and speed (4.48 40-yard-dash) to be a pain for any secondary.
Redshirt junior Ted Bolser is exactly what you think of when you hear “Big 10 tight end.” He is 6’6, 250 pounds and can make you pay if you leave him open. He had three catches for 40 yards against the Sycamores. It sounds like Bolser has hit the weight room and lost some baby fat in the offseason, which is scary for a guy that, at one point, was supposed to be the best tight end in Indiana history.
There is a serious running back battle going on in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers are sure to benefit from the competition if and when a true starter emerges.
Stephen Houston was the feature back last year and ran for more than 800 yards to go with 8 touchdowns. However, Indiana went with sophomore D’Angelo Roberts against Indiana State, who had a less-than-stellar game with 73 yards at a 3 yards-per-carry clip. Houston had 10 touches for 34 yards.
Added to the mix is true freshman Tevin Coleman, who had 48 yards on seven attempts. Coleman was a great get for Indiana this past year, and chose the Hoosiers over a number of programs, including Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Illinois.
According to the newest depth chart, Roberts is starting and Coleman is the backup. Houston may not have a problem yet, but he is currently listed at the third back.
Much like the Minutemen, the Hoosiers have a very young offensive line.
Starting at left tackle is true freshman Jason Spriggs, a 6’7, 268 athlete that was originally recruited as a tight end out of high school. Next to Spriggs is sophomore Bernard Taylor, a 6’2, 292-pound guard. Taylor moved from the defensive line to the offensive line as a freshman and was impressive enough to earn Big Ten All-Freshman team honors via Yahoo Sports, BTN.com and ESPN.
The experience of the group will come from Will Matte, a 6’2, 292-pounds fifth-year senior. Matte started the first 32 games of his career before sustaining an injury against Wisconsin last year.
At right guard, the Hoosiers are going with either true freshman Dan Feeney or sophomore Cody Evers. Feeney was a three-star recruit last year, while Evers started one game and played in all 12 as a true freshman.
Sophomore Peyton Eckert will start at right tackle. Eckert is 6’6 and 293 pounds. As a freshman Ecker started six games and appeared in eight.
UMass’s defensive performance against UConn was one of the few positives from a game that was mostly strewn with negatives. The Minutemen were strong up the middle, got a good push from its defensive line and did not allow UConn’s offensive line to push them around. It’s major deficiency was in the flats, where Husky receivers were mostly open with field to work with.
Indiana will pose a much different test.
In a way, the Minutemen will be looking into the mirror. The Hoosiers have an unsettled running back situation, a mostly inexperienced offensive line and a spread offense that hasn’t fully taken form. UMass is used to defending this scheme in practice and should have moderate success as the teams feel each other out.
At the end of the day, Tre Roberson is the X-factor.
UMass has not yet dealt with a quarterback that has the athleticism to get open and make throws out of broken plays. UConn’s Scott McCummings had Robinson-like speed, but the Minutemen were well aware that when McCummings was on the field, the Huskies were going to run the ball in some capacity. With Roberson, a break from the pocket doesn’t necessarily mean that Indiana is trying to peel a few yards off the edge.
While the UMass defensive line can and should hold its own, the Minutemen will need a strong performance from its secondary. With injuries at safety and inexperience at cornerback, it’s likely that the Hoosiers will try to go to the air early and often. If UMass’ secondary can’t contain Indiana’s tall and speedy receivers, it could be a long first home game for the Maroon and White.