NittanyLionsDen.com is back, albeit a little belated, with Behind Enemy Lines. This week Alex McCarthy, from Indiana Daily Student, answers your burning questions about the 2011 IU Football squad and this weekend's matchup.
1) Indiana University hired Kevin Wilson as their head coach in the off-season after letting Bill Lynch go. What was the feeling about the hire around the IU community when it first occurred, and how are fans viewing Wilson now? What changes has he made to the program and to this year’s squad specifically?
The moment Kevin Wilson was hired, the football program received a jolt of positivity. His experience with shaping potent offenses in Oklahoma as Offensive Coordinator from 2002-2010 gave IU football fans reason to be excited. The only real objection I heard from people was that IU’s problem was never on offense (Wilson’s specialty); it was the defense that gave up over forty points four times last year.
Wilson and his staff stressed that this year’s team would be one that had confidence and carried itself with the attitude that it could beat any opponent.
After dropping the season opener at Ball State, some vocal fans were already losing faith, and after completing its non-conference schedule with a 1-3 record, positivity has taken a bit of a hit. Even though the team is confident and “hyped” for Big Ten play, as senior left tackle Andrew McDonald said, many fans are hyped solely for the tailgating at this point.
2) One characteristic that Saturday’s game will not lack is quarterback controversy. Penn State has gone into every game without knowing who its starter is, but is the debate new in Bloomington? What should we expect from the IU quarterback position after Dusty Kiel threw two touchdowns last week against North Texas, compared to Edward Wright-Baker’s zero? Who is the guy now, and who is the guy for the future?
From the moment former quarterback Ben Chappell graduated after last season, the battle for starting QB has been the top priority for Hoosier fans. Sophomore Dusty Kiel was listed at the top of the depth chart until midway through fall camp until sophomore Edward Wright-Baker got the hot hand and claimed the starting job.
Coaches like Co-Offensive Coordinator Rod Smith and Wilson have been saying from the beginning that Wright-Baker and Kiel have been neck-and-neck since spring and they feel equally confident with either one in the game. Wright-Baker remains at the top of the depth chart, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody to see Kiel get a couple of series in Saturday’s game for himself.
For most here in Bloomington, the quarterback of the future isn’t wearing an IU uniform right now. Kiel’s younger brother (and high school senior) Gunner, ranked as the top quarterback prospect in the country, gave IU a verbal commitment in late August. With neither of this year’s quarterbacks definitively snatching the starting spot, the job might be up for grabs next season as well.
3) The Hoosiers’ two quarterbacks are sophomores, their top two leading rushers are freshman, the leading receiver is a sophomore and you have a few freshmen on the offensive line. Where does the senior leadership come from on offense? How has all this youth affected the team so far?
The senior leadership must come from senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, who led the Big Ten in receptions last season. After a dazzling 65-yard touchdown grab week one, Belcher has struggled to find a consistent role in the offense. Wilson has been trying to utilize Belcher’s athleticism, but it’s possible that teams key in on him and limit his productivity. Sophomores Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes have benefitted from defenses focusing on Belcher and are well on their ways to breakout seasons.
Belcher suffered a bone bruise during IU’s victory over South Carolina State and didn’t travel with the team to North Texas. His importance was felt immediately, as IU’s offense was ineffective until late in the fourth quarter without Belcher. He will return to play against Penn State this weekend.
4) Let’s jump over to defense now. IU has given up at least twenty-one points in each game thus far. Is this due to the same lack of maturity which has plagued the offense? Which area of the defense is going to have to step up the most if the Hoosiers want to make a run at the BigTen?
IU defensive coordinators are probably asking themselves the same questions. What can be done to improve the IU defense that has been so sieve-like in recent seasons? Last year, injuries forced a number of defensive backs to play in unfamiliar positions, but this year, they have been healthy, for the most part. Co-Defensive Coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory are still trying to diagnose the problems on defense.
On defense, the solution is fairly straightforward. They need to be able to stop the run. They have allowed 172 yards per game (eighth in the Big Ten) and North Texas senior Lance Dunbar ran all over them last week, totaling 127 yards on the ground. Penn State ranks last in the Big Ten in rushing this season (which might be a side effect of playing an excellent Alabama defense), which might help IU make a transition into Big Ten season.
5) IU is 1-3, but only thirteen total points from being 4-0. What’s the feeling about these losses as we open up BigTen play? Can the Hoosiers keep in-conference games this close and hopefully surprise a few teams?
Close losses to Michigan (in 2009 and 2010), Iowa (in 2010), Wisconsin (in 2009) and Northwestern (2009) have haunted IU in recent years, and this year is no different. Lynch’s motto for the team last year was “Finish,” which IU hasn’t had a problem with this year. The problem has been painfully slow starts. IU has twice scored 21 points in the fourth quarter of a game, but was still unable to win both because of subpar first three quarters.
If IU can stick with some Big Ten opposition through the first half, they definitely will have a chance to get a couple of Big Ten wins, but if they continue the pattern of sluggish starts, it could be a very long eight weeks.
6) Finally, what are you expecting this Saturday? Specifically, what does IU need to do on both sides of the ball to pull off the upset? Score prediction?
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Hoosiers from game to game. My fellow beat reporter has pointed out that IU has played either up or down to the level of its opponents this season, so this could be a close one if IU can stick with the Nittany Lions.
It’s pretty simple for IU: they need to run the ball effectively and stop the run. IU and Penn State are ranked 11th and 12th in rushing yardage in the Big Ten, respectively, so if there’s any game where IU can hope to win the rushing battle, it might be this one.
Visions of IU’s embarrassing 24-21 defeat at the hands of North Texas are still in my head, so it’s hard for me to predict a win for the Hoosiers until I see it with my own eyes. Penn State is favored by 17, but I don’t think it will be quite that bad for IU. On the IDS’s football podcast that we recorded earlier today, I predicted a 24-14 Nittany Lion victory and I’ll stick to that.