Indiana's quarterback battle isn't quite over yet (photo via courier-journal.com)
Indiana fell back to earth after their program-first triumph over Penn State, allowing 473 yards in a 42-28 loss to Michigan State and pulling starting QB Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter after he struggled to move the ball. I've watched each of these games and think I have a grasp on Indiana's overall quality: a well-coached offense that can put up points on anyone but is limited by their talent in the backfield and on the line coupled with a defense that's ... well, pretty bad.
For an expansion on that boiled-down point, let's go to the full breakdown.
WR Cody Latimer is off to the best start of his career (Andrew Weber/US Presswire)
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. The Hoosiers don't have a fullback, almost always have at least three receivers on the field, and never go under center, even in short-yardage situations.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Basketball on grass. They didn't run much in this game, but when they did it was read option with QB Tre Roberson or simple inside zones.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Indiana plays at breakneck speed, faster between snaps than any team Michigan's faced this year.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): The Hoosiers rotate two quarterbacks even when things are going well. Sudfeld is the starter and gets most of the snaps; he's a pass-first QB who's got a knack for escaping pressure in the pocket but lacks the speed to be a downfield running threat—I'd give him a 4. Roberson is used a lot in short-yardage and goal-line packages and runs nearly as often as he throws; while he's never put up eye-popping rushing numbers, a lot of that is due to being used in obvious run situations, and he's pretty tough to stop on those—he merits a 7.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Dangerman: Prior to the MSU game, receiver Cody Latimer recorded three consecutive games with at least six catches and 136 yards after being targeted sparingly in IU's first two contests. He's the team's best downfield threat and also provides solid running after the catch in the screen game, which the Hoosiers rely upon heavily (more on that later). At 6'3", 215 lbs., he's a big target and can run through arm-tackles in the secondary. Thus far this season, he's already recorded 35 receptions for 544 yards and three TDs—the first two figures lead the team.
Zook Factor: N/A, unfortunately.
HenneChart: A two-for-one this week, as both Sudfeld and Roberson got extensive action against the Spartans—I charted a little after I would normally stop so I could get one of Roberson's drives that wasn't in full-blown garbage time. Sudfeld had a very solid game against Penn State's passive defense, then strugged mightily hitting his downfield targets against MSU's much more aggressive defense; he also faced heavy pressure all day. Roberson was asked to do much less in the passing game, mostly sticking to screens and very short passes, until it got to desperation time late—he didn't fare well throwing downfield, either, and generally looked like a less polished passer than Sudfeld.
|Michigan State||1||9 (6)||1||10x||--||1||--||5||2||52%|
|Michigan State||--||6 (2)||--||6x||1||1||--||--||--||43%|
Both of those Downfield Success Rates are poor, obviously. Sudfeld faced a lot more pressure, in part due to the threat of Roberson running and in part due to the game situation—Roberson took over after the game was all but assured for MSU. (Even Roberson's charted throwaway was a relatively-unpressured scramble that came up well short of the sticks.)
Starting as usual with the formation chart, which paints a pretty clear picture of IU's offensive identity:
Almost all of the pistol snaps came with Roberson in the game. This tends to be the initial look when he's out there, and IU often motions out the deep back—actually slot receiver Shane Wynn—to threaten the flat before the snap:
The run/pass breakdown shows just how much IU played behind the sticks against MSU—look at the third down distribution!
Indiana averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 25 non-sack carries; almost all of those came on one play, a 64-yard Tevin Coleman touchdown on their fourth snap from scrimmage. The Hoosiers couldn't crack two YPC when that play is removed.
As you can imagine given the above, the offensive line didn't fare too well against MSU, and while they opened up more holes against Penn State they still allowed a fair amount of pressure on the QB and couldn't get much push on their D-line. None of the starting O-linemen crack 300 pounds as the Hoosiers emphasize mobility over power; to their credit, they do a good job getting to the second level on zone runs and screens. However, they struggle in pass protection and had a few major communication errors against MSU; right guard Jake Reed had an especially poor outing, struggling with his assignments in both run blocking and pass protection. A quick defensive tackle—hello, Jibreel Black—should give him trouble.
Running back Tevin Coleman has plenty of speed—he really took advantage of the one big hole he had against State, bursting up the middle for the long TD—but he's not a serious threat to make guys miss or power through anybody; he gets what the line gives him, for the most part. With IU falling behind early, he was the only running back to get any carries against MSU; Stephen Houston got five touches against PSU and did well with them—he's a bigger back at 230 pounds and moves very well for his size.
The Hoosiers have a lot more to work with in the passing game, led by Latimer. They also boast a very good safety valve and red zone threat in tight end Ted Bolser, who's scored touchdowns on five of his 19 receptions this season. Senior receiver Kofi Hughes is another quality option on the outside, while junior Nick Stoner and senior Duwyce Wilson provide depth in the receiving corps. While Latimer is a vertical threat and Bolser works the seams, Wynn is one to watch in the slot—he's the target of a lot of screens and underneath throws and displays very good speed and open-field running when he has room. As noted earlier, he also lines up as a deep back in the pistol; IU motioned him out to open up room for read options by Roberson and Coleman, then scored a touchdown by hitting him on a flare route near the goal line:
He didn't have to do much there; it still gives you an idea of how he'll be utilized, both as a decoy and a receiver. Wynn is also a very dangerous punt returner—on four chances this year, he's averaging 18.5 yards and broke one for a touchdown, and this is especially frightening considering Michigan's continued insistence on using a pro-style punt formation.
Indiana throws a ton of screens, and Space Coyote has a very nice breakdown of all the variations—and how they can be packaged together—over at his blog. In short, the bubble, tunnel, flare, and slip screens are all utilized, and they can be combined easily; the offense also has constraint plays for their screens, like converting the flare into a wheel route and turning a tunnel screen into a delayed slant. Space Coyote diagrams a flare/tunnel combo and a bubble/tunnel in his post. One of IU's most successful offensive plays came on a bubble/slip combination, which is the focus of the breakdown below.
Indiana lines up in a three-wide shotgun formation, and while MSU's weakside linebacker is played off the slot and to the inside, their safety is also over the top of the slot. This will come into play soon.
At the snap, Wynn (bottom of the screen) starts the bubble screen action; note that Indiana's line, however, is starting to release to the other side of the field, as is the running back:
If the weakside LB and safety don't start bugging out towards Wynn, he's the first read on this play. They do, however, and Max Bullough (between the hashes) also starts to run in this direction before realizing what's happening behind him. This leaves six Indiana blockers on the left side of the field to take out four defenders (you can see the shadow of the MSU safety on the left hash):
Coleman catches the slip screen with acres of space and all of the nearby MSU defenders either too far behind the play to do anything or occupied by at least one blocker:
Coleman gains 20 yards here and could've had more if his teammates hadn't somehow lost the double against the playside corner, which forced the play closer to the sideline; Coleman stepped out of bounds while making a juke against the safety. Video:
Michigan is going to have to be very disciplined on defense, as Indiana relies on this type of misdirection—along with the pure variation in their screen game—to generate much of their passing offense.
Nick Mangieri is IU's most disruptive DL by virtue of being occasionally disruptive
Base Set? 4-3
Man or zone coverage? Indiana played a lot of man coverage in this game, and Michigan State picked on nickel corner Kenny Mullen (#22) a few times, including on this rub route that resulted in a touchdown:
Pressure: GERG or Greg? Indiana played relatively passive on first and second downs, then occasionally dialed up the heat on obvious passing downs. This also came back to bite them against MSU, as the first Spartan touchdown came on a perfectly-timed slip screen to Jeremy Langford when the Hoosiers brought six rushers—Langford waltzed untouched into the end zone.
Dangerman: DE Nick Mangieri leads the team with 6.5 TFLs and was their most impressive defender against MSU (this isn't the highest of compliments), tallying four tackles and a TFL and holding his own against the run better than any other IU lineman. He's not a huge pass rush threat—backup DE John Laihinen actually leads the team in sacks with 3.5, one more than Mangieri—but he's capable of beating tackles one-on-one and doesn't get routinely sealed or buried on the edge, which was an issue for the rest of the line against State.
As you probably inferred from the previous section, I wasn't impressed with Indiana's defensive line. The non-Mangieri linemen simply couldn't get off blocks against MSU, and the Spartans took advantage to the tune of 238 rushing yards on over five yards a pop. They recorded just one sack and were credited with zero QB hurries; Connor Cook usually had all day to throw.
The front seven got very aggressive in trying to get to the playside, and this opened up a lot of huge cutback lanes for State's backs. This was a pretty typical carry for MSU:
Note both linebackers charging directly into blocks and the backside DE getting manhandled to the inside. Like both Minnesota and Penn State, the Hoosiers have small DEs (none surpass 260 lbs.) who struggle to hold the point of attack; how much this comes into play is a total mystery given the current status of Michigan's rushing offense.
If Al Borges decides to include more designed quarterback runs in this game, Devin Gardner could be in for a huge day on the ground. Cook barely ran in this game, though he got this critical first down when strongside linebacker Steven Funderburk looked like he'd never seen a read option before:
The shaky play of the linebackers, in conjunction with IU's tendency to play man coverage, could lead not only to successful designed QB runs, but also some long Gardner scrambles; man coverage means the defenders in coverage will often have their backs turned to the QB.
The secondary is not very good; while they're a semi-respectable 51st (7th in B1G) in pass efficiency defense, they're largely responsible for the Hoosiers' 103rd-ranked third down defense, which gives up first downs at a 44% clip; Penn State, a team that struggles mightily in that regard, converted 11-of-22 third downs against IU. The safeties take poor run angles and allowed a several plays to get over top of them against PSU (MSU didn't attack downfield nearly as often). I thought corner Tim Bennett (#24) had a solid day in coverage against State; otherwise, the corners looked very beatable in coverage. The secondary tackling as a whole is very, very bad.
Here's a look at a long MSU touchdown that shows a lot of the issues the Hoosiers have defending the run. Will this matter against Michigan? [/twitches] Ugh, let's do this anyway.
This is a 3rd-and-2 from the IU 32-yard line and MSU comes out in an I-form with two TEs. IU responds by putting ten men in the box:
At the snap, the nose is immediately buried, but Indiana's linebackers—as well as safety Greg Heban, #9—flow well to the play and the other defensive tackle breaks through the line (he's the guy right in front of Langford):
Heban and the playside linebacker, spectacularly-named Forisse "Flo" Hardin*, get easily cut to the turf, however, and the backside pursuit is caught up in the mass of bodies created when the nose tackle got pancaked. This leaves is up to one of the backup DTs (I can't tell which one—this was a low-quality torrent and there are three backup DTs of similar size with numbers in the 90s) to keep this from turning into a big gain, especially since corner Michael Hunter (#17) flies upfield and totally loses contain:
Yeah, he misses the tackle. Look at all that grass:
A big gain turns into a touchdown when the other safety, Mark Murphy, takes a terrible angle to the play and leaves himself with no chance at a tackle, as you can see in this video of the original broadcast angle:
If Michigan comes up with a way to have a running game, they should be able to find success against this defense. I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's even worth hoping that's the case.
*Seriously, you can't make this stuff up—a linebacker named Flo Hardin sounds like something I'd create in a video game.