Indiana seeking answers for inconsistent passing game

The protection was poor and so were the throws. And it didn’t stop there.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson couldn’t blame the Hoosiers’ passing woes against Maryland on one specific area. Rather, it was a long list of whatever could go wrong did go wrong for quarterback Nate Sudfeld, his receivers and his blockers.

“You name it,” Wilson said. “It was a day where if anyone that had a part of passing could mess up some things, we were hitting on 10 all day, whether it be the play call, the time to call it, the placement, the route, the protection, the read, the catch, whatever. You name it. We were all part of it, collectively.”

Two weeks after one of his best performances at Indiana, Sudfeld authored one of his most forgettable. He completed only 14 of 37 passes for 126 yards and one interception against the Terrapins. His throws weren’t crisp and he was under duress for much of the afternoon. That, and his receivers dropped a few catchable balls and couldn’t seem to get open with consistency.

Indiana’s passing offense ranks among the bottom half of the Big Ten through four games. The Hoosiers are averaging 209 yards per game through the air and have the fewest passing touchdowns (two) in the league. Sudfeld is completing 57 percent of his throws for 836 total yards, while obviously missing the safety of having a reliable target like Cody Latimer.

One quick fix might include permanently moving Shane Wynn from the outside back to the slot to bring a degree of familiarity back to the passing game. Wynn has been OK, but not great since moving outside, averaging 58 yards per game with zero touchdowns through the first four contests. Asked Monday whether he would consider such a change, Wilson said fixing the Hoosiers’ aerial attack isn’t about one player.

“I mean, you know, he was in the slot the other day,” Wilson said. “Missed him on a corner route. If you don’t block him, you don’t stay on schedule, don’t throw everything to him, you got to throw it to a bunch of guys. They can always take away one guy where he is and they ain’t taking him away, they’re not honoring him, they’re stopping the run. If you want to work one guy you can always defend one guy. Our offense has been about not one guy and right now we got the run game going pretty good and the pass game has been pretty inconsistent. The running game wasn’t consistent, too, it skewed those numbers stat-wise to make them look a little better than they were. The other guy is playing good inside, he’s doing okay outside.

“We’ll keep looking at it. I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t think that’s the problem. I think it’s a team problem, from schematics, coaching, play calling to team execution. When you’re doing something good, when we are running the ball good the receivers are part of that, too. When you’re doing something good it’s a team deal, when you’re struggling, typically it’s a team deal, and collectively we were way off. Hadn’t practiced that way. We’ll see. When you get out of rhythm, get out of whack, hard to get going. We didn’t jump start it. We just let them off the hook. We’ll see what we can do this week, because this week will be loaded boxes, one‑on‑one’s, they’re very competitive and very good in the secondary. It’s not like this is going to be an easy week to solve our problems because they’re a very good defense.”

Wilson said he wasn’t interested in making excuses about the lack of chemistry between Sudfeld and his receivers. Having a player like Latimer back for another would be nice, but it’s not reality in today’s college game.

The fourth-year Indiana coach pointed out that of Indiana’s first four games, two of them have included decent passing performances. For Wilson, it goes back to establishing consistency.

“It’s got to be sharper, we’ll keep pushing for it,” Wilson said. “I’m confident it’s going to be there, but it’s got to be consistent because you go back the previous two weeks, you see some pretty good things, and all of the sudden you see that. When you’ve got two not good passing days and two pretty solid passing days, and the two solid days are against decent teams, too, so what is it? Credit Maryland they played well. We still had some guys open but protection, run game, staying on schedule, schematics, set your feet, rip it, don’t aim it, rip it, be aggressive, trust it. We’ll keep pushing. We won’t change. We gotta get better. We gotta get better at it and I’m sure we will.”

For his part, first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Johns agreed that it was a combination of struggles that doomed Indiana’s offense. Most alarming was IU’s trouble winning the battle up front. Maryland pushed around the Hoosiers’ experienced offensive line, forcing Sudfeld to scurry in and out of the pocket and throw under pressure.

Johns said he couldn’t pinpoint any differences in the offensive line’s approach between the Missouri and Maryland games, other than saying that the group didn’t have the right mentality.

“We’re disappointed in that and really at all positions,” Johns said. “Not only up front with the O-line, but receivers perimeter blocking as well, and our running backs. In general, it wasn’t a really good day for us, so we’re at a loss. We’re not really sure why or what happened. We were much more physical two weeks ago than we were last week.”

Johns also took responsible for not making better play calls.

“There are always calls you want back,” Johns said. “I’d imagine that’s true of any coordinator at any level in football. Sometimes things happen fast and you spit something out and you wish you could have it back, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

7 comments

  1. Excuses. Candy-a** excuses.

    And something tells me that if you gave that bunch of raw garbage to Coach Wilson in a class, he’d rip you a new one.

    To me this is on the coaches. If the team isn’t “ready to play” an important Big Ten game with all that is at stake, what are the coaches doing or not doing to cause or allow that? What’s the point?

    The one thing that MIGHT change my tune would be if Maryland really could suss out what was coming. That would be a decent excuse for the poor performance, although it would certainly raise a whole other set of questions.

    And if there is some signal pilfering, they better fix that ASAP. Maryland would love us to win out now, so I’d be on the horn to them and asking what is going on with that.

    I’ll tell you one thing. That would certainly explain the poor performance. If the other team knows what is coming, you’re going to look like crap almost no matter what you do.

    Answers, Coach Wilson, please.

    And not some candy-a** excuses, Coach!

  2. I sure did not find any excuses but it did come through loud and clear the offensive coaching staff is hunting for solutions.

  3. There are no “solutions” here. Maryland is a very good team…likely one that will perennially compete for B1G championship. They are talented and well coached. They came to play in their B1G debut. Give them credit.

    IU is a team and program that is improving but not yet at a B1G level notwithstanding the amazing win at Missouri. IU is currently at a level that places us at the upper end of the MAC. Compared to years past, this is a good solid step in the right direction because MAC teams are solid and have pulled off any number of upsets! IU will continue to upset some teams. Will we get 6 wins this season? maybe…certainly possible, but probably not. We still don’t have enough depth particularly on defense. As the season wears on and we unfortunately sustain injuries that are certain to happen, we will be challenged to compete against teams with better talent and depth. All that said, we are making progress. We are already past the point where opponents count IU as a win…they know better…ask Missouri.

  4. IUfan23, I think that is a fair assessment. But there has to be solutions to the drop off in offensive production especially passing. I do believe Wilson has changed his philosophy just a bit by putting a little more emphasis on the run game so as to increase game possession time by 2-3 minutes which gives Knorr a higher % to succeed on the D side of the ball. I think that is smart and shows flexibility and evolvement in the 4th year. But still a fair assessment and every opponent has to consider IU a dangerous foe if for nothing more than they do not know which IU to prepare for.

  5. Let’s not get our chests all puffed out over the Missouri win. Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then. Let’s see if this team can play well enough for the rest of the year and make it to a bowl game.

  6. Agreed, RAM, Mizzou was just one game (although the Tiger’s win over #13 S. Carolina las Sat. makes it a little more satisfying). Maryland was one game, too.

    HC: your post #6. That’s what I call succinct!

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