You might have heard that we’re not too high on the 2022 Indiana football team. We wrote about Indiana having just a 6% chance at a bowl game using Bill Connelly’s SP+ model. We talked at length on the CrimsonCast podcast. Suffice to say, we’re not expecting greatness from this team which is frankly something Indiana fans have been used to. I guess decades of futility and coming off a 2-10 season will do that to you.
That isn’t to say there is no reason for optimism. We’re not going to just PUNT on the season. If certain areas of the team reach their potential, this team has the opportunity to be in the running for a bowl game.
Indiana’s offense can’t get any worse – Call it improvement, call it regression to the mean, call it whatever you want. Last year’s offense was bad. Really bad. The Hoosiers ranked 127th nationally in yards per play at 4.25. They had a non-garbage success rate of 37%, worst since 2017 and explosive play percentage of 11%, also worst since 2017. When they did manage to get a drive deep in the opponent territory, they failed to finish drives with touchdowns or even points. The 2022 bunch will not suddenly resemble the 2013 offensive juggernaut, but it is doubtful they will be as incompetent as a year ago. That is, as long as Indiana has…
Improved quarterback play – Just like the offense as a whole, the quarterback play last year was atrocious. Michael Penix never seemed comfortable to start the year and as poorly as he played (just 5.8 passing yards per attempt), things cratered in his absence. I’m going under the assumption that Connor Bazelak is the starter for Indiana in 2022, mostly because I haven’t seen Jack Tuttle show that he can take the next step. Bazelak, in his 2 seasons at Missouri, has comparable stats (including garbage time) against FBS opponents that Peyton Ramsey did in his 3 seasons at Indiana. Granted, it’s a completely different offense in a different conference, but from a passing-perspective both QBs tend to complete a high percentage of passes often shorter in nature.
If Bazelak can be serviceable, this offense has the pieces in place to be respectable. The 2018 Indiana offense, coordinated by Mike DeBord, where Ramsey was the primary QB, finished 55th nationally in offensive SP+, 52nd in yards per game, and 86th in yards per play. Assuming Bazelak can perform similarly to his time at Missouri and he stays healthy all season, a 2018 Indiana offense seems in range.
The return of Tom Allen – After watching his 2021 defense get away from how he wants a defense to operate, head coach Tom Allen is returning as the defensive play caller, a position he gave up at the end of 2018. The last time he took over calling plays was when he came to Indiana in 2016. A defense that a year prior allowed 6.4 yards per play in non-garbage time turned into a very strong unit. It was the defense that helped lead Indiana to a second straight bowl game that season.
While Allen’s 2018 defense fell off significantly from his 2016 and 2017 defenses, it also came after a sizable amount of turnover. Gone were Tegray Scales, Chris Covington, Robert McCray, Greg Gooch, Nate Hoff, Rashard Fant, and other mainstays. Indiana has to replace significant production in Micah McFadden as well as Ryder Anderson. That is far from guaranteed, especially at linebacker, but the cupboard is far from bare.
Turnovers…maybe – There’s also been a lot of optimism regarding a renewed focus on forcing turnovers. After all, Indiana was a turnover machine in 2020 before switching to more of a man-to-man coverage in 2021 under Charlton Warren. The team is switching back to more of the zone coverage principles that Allen prefers. However, that 2020 defense had an extreme amount of turnover luck (that faded at the end of the year) along with a dominant ball-hawk in Jamar Johnson. Plus, Allen didn’t even coordinate the 2020 defense. Kane Wommack certainly ran the defense the way Allen wanted, but he was ultimately the one calling the plays with his own wrinkles. Allen’s defenses have been a mixed bag in terms of forcing turnovers. His 2016 defense was tied for 42nd nationally at 1.8 per game. The 2017 defense fell to 111th nationally at 1.1 per game before a dramatic improvement to 7th nationally at 2.2 per game in 2018. Scheme, playcalling, and execution factor into forcing turnovers, but so does luck. Indiana’s been on both extremes since Allen’s arrival in 2016. Indiana was so poor in forcing turnovers last year at just 0.75 per game that it will be nearly impossible not to improve. The Hoosiers could even be unlucky and still improve. However, despite getting back to the same principles as the 2020 defense, that rate of turnovers is almost certainly out of reach. More likely is the potential to be above average or possibly better if the oblong ball bounces IU’s way a couple times. And that is probably good enough.