2005 Indiana football preview
Aug. 31, 2005
2004 Record: 3-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
When Terry Hoeppner accepted his dream job as Indiana head coach, the Indiana native inherited a program with a 2004 last-place Conference finish and 10 consecutive losing seasons. None of that is keeping Hoeppner, the fourth Indiana coach in 10 years, from setting his team's sights on its first bowl berth in 11 straight seasons.
"If you're ignorant of history, then you are destined to repeat it," he said. "But I'm not ignorant of our program's recent history. If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. And I truly believe we can be a successful program. ...What's realistic? I'm not going to set limits on these guys," he said. "There's not one team on our schedule we can't beat. There's no team on our schedule that we probably couldn't lose to, either, if we go out and slop it around. These seniors have done a great job getting us through this transition. They deserve to go bowling. I can't wait."
Hoeppner brings enough history of his own to bait confidence in Indiana football fans who haven't seen a Big Ten Conference crown since 1967. His hard-nosed discipline and demanding-but-enthusiastic leadership helped raise Miami of Ohio to perennial Mid-American Conference contender. During his six seasons as RedHawks head coach, he compiled a 48-24 record, including an Independence Bowl appearance last year.
Whether Hoeppner's winning touch will catch on at Indiana, depends on an offensive unit that's very young. Despite losing six starters from last year's offense, including two-year starting quarterback Matt LoVecchio and Indiana's all-time leading receiver Courtney Roby, Hoeppner sees a team he can mold to his creative offensive schemes. But someone will have to step up at quarterback and wide receiver before the passing game can become a threat.
One thing Hoeppner proved at Miami is that he knows how to develop a quarterback. He tutored 2004 NFL Rookie of the Year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers to becoming only the third MAC quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in three different seasons -- Marshall's Chad Pennington, now New York Jets quarterback, and Byron Leftwich, who runs the Jacksonville Jaguars offense, also did it. Sophomore quarterback Blake Powers may not be ready for Roethlisberger status, but his size (6-5 and 235 pounds), powerful arm and surprising mobility will give him plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself in Hoeppner's spread offense. With limited action in only five games as a redshirt freshman, Powers still lacks game-time experience. Junior Graeme McFarland will push Powers for playing time. McFarland did not play in 2004, but served as LoVecchio's back-up in 2003. He played in nine games and started once during that stint, completing 18-of-36 and one touchdown pass. If their offseason work is any indication of what awaits the Hoosiers this spring, Hoeppner couldn't be more pleased. "They have improved so much from the spring - not only the obvious physical things, but their understanding of the offense, chemistry with receivers," he said. "But now we have to work hard to maintain that chemistry developed over the summer."
As raw as Indiana's passing corps is, its receivers are even more inexperienced. Senior Jahkeen Gilmore is the Hoosiers' most seasoned returning wideout and the responsibilities of the No. 1 spot are within his reach. The 6-0 Brooklyn native only has 23 career receptions to his credit, but he also has the physical presence and speed to become Indiana's go-to wide receiver. Senior Rhett Kleinschmidt will have to step up his 2004 performance of three receptions for 22 years as the only other receiver with playing time to his credit, while one sophomore and a trio of redshirt freshmen will have plenty of game-time opportunities to step into instrumental roles.
The Hoosier running game also took a personnel hit at the end of 2004 when two-year starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who accounted for nearly 60 percent of Indiana's rushing yards, transferred to Ole Miss. Two veteran tailbacks that must fill the hole left in Indiana's backfield. In his three seasons, senior Chris Taylor has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 27 games, including rushed for 329 yards on 82 carries last season. Fellow senior Yamar Washington ran for 122 yards after sitting out the 2003 injury with a knee injury. The 1-2 punch of Taylor and Washington will get some much-needed back-up from sophomore Josiah Sears. Sears played in all 11 games last season, and his impressive quickness and muscle makes him a huge dynamic in Hoeppner's spread offense.
The best thing Hoeppner has going for the transition to his spread offense is a veteran offensive line. After battling through two season-ending injuries in 2004, the group returns four healthy starters. Seniors Adam Hines, Brandon Hatcher and Isaac Sowells, along with juniors Chris Mangiero and Justin Frye bring a combined 94 starts worth of experience to the Indiana front line. Hines, the Hoosiers' most multitalented lineman, has proven he can hold his own anywhere in the lineup. Despite starting at left guard, Hines moved to left tackle when injuries struck last year. His durability has earned him a 24-game consecutive start streak he carries into 2005. After being sidelined in 2004 with a season-ending arm injury, Hoosiers' left tackle Sowells is in top-form and hungrier than ever. His monstrous frame (6-3, 330 pounds) and all-around blocking dominance has NFL scouts salivating. Mangiero was also knocked out of the lineup, suffering a broken foot injury, but the 310-pound center is back to claim his spot in the middle. Sophomore guard Brandon Joyce hasn't seen a single game-time snap, but his spring ball performance earned him the starting spot at right guard, where he'll battle Hatcher for playing time.
The Hoosiers' defensive handicap in 2004 may have been its defensive line, which surrendered a league-high 5 yards per carry. Anchoring the defensive front, senior defensive ends Victor Adeyanju and Ben Ishola will be the troupe's biggest strength. Adeyanju, who counted four sacks and 40 tackles last year, is a disruptive force with a quick first step that should get him into the backfield even more in 2005. Junior Kenny Kendal will push Ishola, a career reserve, for snaps at the opposite end. The defensive front's interior depth problems were such that redshirt freshman Greg Brown was moved from offensive to defensive tackle, giving the middle line a 300-pound body to step-up the Hoosiers' rushing resistance.
Hoeppner believes his zone-blitzing scheme is the best way to force turnovers, but for his inventive game-plan to be effective, the Hoosier secondary must step up. Indiana has several young cornerback prospects who could give its secondary the edge it needs. Although they are undersized, sophomores Tracy Porter (5-10, 185 pounds) and Leslie Majors (5 -9, 170 pounds) make up for their shortcomings with high-powered speed. Majors clocked a 4.25-second 40-yard dash and broke up eight passes in his first season.
The safeties' top priorities are intimidating the run and upping their play-making potential, and a pair of veterans in senior free safety Will Lumpkin and junior strong safety Will Meyers leads the way. A knee injury cost Lumpkin nearly all of the 2003 season, but he returned last year with 29 tackles and two defensive touchdowns. After earning The Sporting News' 2003 Freshman of the Year Big Ten title, Meyers spent 2004 on the sidelines with a knee injury. Meyers made 83 stops his rookie year, and his will provide a formidable presence in the Hoosiers' secondary.
On special teams, the Hoosiers must replace kicker Bryan Robertson. Redshirt freshman Austin Starr had the best spring practice campaign for the spot, but he need to be steady from 40 yards. Junior Tyson Beatie, who averaged 41.3 yards, returns as one of the Big Ten's best punters. With Lance Bennett dropping deep for kick returns, Indiana special teams squad looks to have another sensational season. The team led the country in kick returns with a 28.1-yard average, mostly due to Bennett's return skills. His 30-yard average ranked third nationally.
The Hoosiers have hopes of entering the Conference season 3-0, but they won't overlook a trip to Central Michigan in the season-opener. They miss Northwestern and Penn State, but face an onslaught of Conference bowl-bound talent. The season's end will be the toughest with a trip to Michigan and Purdue at home in the regular season finale.