2006 Indiana Football Preview
Aug. 29, 2006
2005 Record: 4-7 (1-7 Big Ten) 10th
Head Coach: Terry Hoeppner Record at Indiana: 4-7, Overall Record: 52-32
Starters Returning: Offense 5, Defense 4, Special Teams 3
Terry Hoeppner is no miracle man but there is no doubt he made his mark in his first year as Hoosier head coach. No, he didn't end the 10 year winning drought, but he did bring such a fervor and curiosity to Bloomington, Ind. that more than 230,000 fans flocked to Memorial Stadium, a number untouched since 1999. Additionally, it wasn't enough for his reputation to precede him; Hoeppner wanted his new players and fans to believe in themselves. To create this new and unique identity he dubbed Memorial Stadium "The Rock" representative of the look of the stadium and the limestone country surrounding the heartland. In doing so he created a rallying cry, "Defend The Rock," that both players and fans could relate to. While he wasn't able to turn around a team completely he instilled a belief that Indiana football could be great once again.
"There's an excitement throughout the state - the Hoosier Nation. There is an enthusiasm. And to the groups I've had an opportunity to speak with I thanked them for their patience because they're more patient with me than I am with me," adds Hoeppner.
In 2006, Indiana will undeniably ride the arm of quarterback Blake Powers and the hands of James Hardy. Powers threw for a record breaking 22 touchdown passes last season, shattering Antwaan Randle El's single-season passing TD standard of 17 set in 1999. In the end, Powers climbed up to second in completions (212) and attempts (376) and fourth in passing yards (2,305) in the single season record book, much of which is credited to Powers' accurate arm but also Hoeppner's spread offense design.
There is no telling what Powers will be capable of this year. Indiana is waist deep in receivers and are all led up by the one-man highlight reel himself, sophomore James Hardy. Hardy's 61 receptions and 10 TDs last year placed him second in both categories in single season school history. In addition to racking up five 100+ yard games his 89.3 yards per game placed him number one in the conference, garnering him second team all-Big Ten honors. Powers will also be looking down field for senior pass-catching specialist Jahkeen Gilmore. Gilmore started all ten games last year catching 30 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. Beyond that the Hoosiers are looking at 12 underclassmen on their depth chart (seven second team and five first team players). The O-line returns only two starters in left tackle Justin Frye and center Chris Mangiero. The rest of the line shares nine appearances and four starts last year begging the question whether the young and inexperienced line will give Powers enough time to look down field. Another question lingering is in the tailback position where there is no experience to turn to. After catching 32 passes for 432 yards last year, true team player, Marcus Thigpen, moves from wide receiver to running back to fill the position.
First, the good news; the good news is that Indiana returns all four starters from their defensive secondary. Cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors and safeties Will Meyers and Troy Grosfield held their opponents under their own total passing yardage for the year. Now the bad news; the Hoosiers gave up, on average, 32.8 points per game and lost both their linebackers and two of their best defensive linemen to graduation. To fill the void, the Hoosiers will look to junior college transfer Vernon Smith to make an immediate impact at middle linebacker. The rest of the line consists of former backups with a combined 11 starts between them.
"We'll be a young football team. The term redshirt may not be used at IU this year. I tell young guys coming in `We're going to play you soon - not too soon - but soon," admits Head coach Terry Hoeppner.
Special teams' Lance Bennett ranked fourth in the nation last year after totaling 544 yards and averaging 22.7 yards per return. Bennett's longest return was an 86 yard run against Kentucky.
Senior punter Tyson Beattie returns, after averaging 41.7 yards per punt as a junior and Kevin Trulock will take over placekicking duties for the 2006 season with Joe Kleinsmith moving to the defensive backfield.
The Hoosiers have a good chance of starting the season 4-0 against non-conference opponents (Western Michigan, Ball State, Southern Illinois, Connecticut) which will provide confidence headed into conference play. Additionally, they will have the chance to "Defend The Rock" a total of seven times this year; four times against conference foes Wisconsin, Michigan State, No. 16 Iowa and No. 14 Michigan. A tailback needs to emerge to give the offense more versatility while both the offensive and defensive lines need to grow up fast and not play so young.