Co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler might have summed up the Indiana coaching staff’s feeling on Week 1 best.
The fiery linebackers coach was asked simply how he thought his defense did in its season opener after finishing as one of the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision a year ago.
“Fair to partly cloudy,” he said.
After two days to digest the film, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and head coach Kevin Wilson had similar reactions. Wilson had a somewhat sunnier overall take, noting even Saturday night that the Hoosiers’ 24-17 win over Indiana State was the sort of game the Hoosiers might have lost a year ago. But they did note a number of things that needed to get better.
“I saw a lot of good things,” Littrell said. “But I also saw a lot of areas for improvement, not just for the players, but me as a coach also.”
Said Ekeler: “We had some guys up for the first time. You’re always worried about when the lights come on, how they’re gonna react. It was kind of summer ball. Some good, some bad. We just kind of cleaned it up. … We did some decent things, but we left a lot out there just by alignments and assignments. We gave them a lot of stuff that we shouldn’t have. … A lot of things we gave up, we were misaligned. We were out of position, and those things will kill you.”
On each side of the ball, the Hoosiers were putting first-year players in critical positions. On offense, the Hoosiers had two true freshmen on the offensive line, including Jason Spriggs at the ultra critical left tackle position and Dan Feeney at right guard.
Wilson said Feeney was moved to right guard from left guard where he spent most of preseason practice just so the Hoosiers could surround the rookies with slightly more experienced veterans in left guard Bernard Taylor and right tackle Peyton Eckert.
“Instead of just putting two young guys out there on an island, we just tried to clean it up,” Wilson said. “We’re either man or sliding protection, so you’re either got your guy or building a wall, so it’s just flipped, where you’re pulling right or pulling left in the power and everyone’s just kind of zone blocking. It’s not as hard to interchange that position if a kid can think schematically, big picture. I thought they handled that pretty well and they had a solid game for the first start.”
On defense, the Hoosiers had two linebackers playing in their first Division I game in middle linebacker David Cooper and strong-side linebacker Jacarri Alexander.
“Coop did some nice things,” Ekeler said. “He did some good things. He made some bone-headed mistakes. Jacarri had a lot to improve upon. All in all we saw some great effort, saw some things to improve upon. At the end of the day, those guys have a lot to improve upon. Just excited about their upside.”
Wilson said he was impressed with the way his players have responded and dedicated themselves to building off Game 1.
“The biggest difference between being a good team and not is just learning how to compete,” Wilson said. “Today was a very nice competitive Tuesday practice which we haven’t had. We thought last week our Thursday and Friday was as good as we have been. I think that’s why when the game got close, our kids didn’t panic. We didn’t execute a couple of kick plays cleanly, had a couple of offensive drives(stall) but our defense was sharp down the stretch but it was just some growing pains.”
— Wilson said senior defensive tackle Nicholas Sliger returned to practice this week. He also said on the Big Ten call that tailback Isaiah Roundtree is healthy and will be available to be part of the running back rotation this week. He reiterated that freshman Tevin Coleman came out of the rotation because he got hit in the shoulder and “thought he was hurt.”
— Tre Roberson carried the ball seven times in the opener for 19 yards and a touchdown, but said afterward that there weren’t many called runs. Wilson said that was by design, as the Hoosiers have tried to make him more of a pocket passer. He did say, however, that the Hoosiers will continue to use his considerable speed for the future.
“We didn’t have a lot of quarterback run game in that last one,” Wilson said. “We didn’t want him to run it. He’ll scramble around, we’ll move the pocket with bootlegs a little bit, some run/pass mix with him and there will be some quarterback run, but you go through 12 games, and there’s a lot of hits those guys take, I just felt early that it would be nice with what we were trying to do. We can still run him, but I don’t think we’ll win a whole bunch of games if we run him a whole lot.”
Roberson completed passes to 10 different receivers. Wilson said that would likely be common, simply because the Hoosiers use so many receivers with an uptempo pace and mostly spread formations with at least three wide receivers.
“You’re going to get five, six, seven receivers in the game,” Wilson said. “One or two tight ends, a couple, three backs. Backs are part of the game, tight ends are part of the game. Coach Littrell would tell you if you’re talking balance of offense, you’re not talking run/pass, you’re talking making them defend every player so this guy’s not just a decoy. … If you’re gonna play in our offense whether you’re a tailback, tight end or receiver, you’re gonna have to catch the ball.'”