Craig Has The Scout - Indiana 2023
Who: Indiana Hoosiers
When: 11:00 am - November 11th, 2023
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Tom Allen. Allen is starting to become a millstone around the neck of the Hoosiers. The divisional structure was not kind to Indiana, and it just as it goes away the Hoosiers are starting to come apart at the seams. Allen was a victim of his own success in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Upon completion, the two coordinators who led the rise of Indiana under Allen departed. Kalen DeBoer left in 2019 for Fresno State. Kane Wommack left in 2020 for South Alabama. Ever since, Allen has floundered. The curse of the P5 coach, once you build the program up, your coordinators get poached. The success of the coach is fully reliant on the ability to replace the lost talent.
Offensive Style: Balanced spread option attack. And by balanced, in terms of the numbers of plays they have run. The run game is fairly broken, and the passing attack runs hot and cold. Walt Bell was fired earlier in the season and replaced by Rod Carey. The Carey offense has slowed the pace down from the Bell breakneck speed.
Defensive Style: 4-2-5 Cover 2/3. Allen continues to run the same 4-2-5 base they have run since Allen's arrival. They seem to be blitzing more this year than in previous seasons and continue to mix up the back-end coverages.
Specialists: Indiana has the most anemic punt return game in the conference. Their Kickoff return game is only slightly better. The upside is they have the second-best punting game behind Iowa this season. The real downside for the Hoosiers is in the last three games they have fumbled three punt returns.
2023 Indiana at a Glance:
2023 Record: 3-6, 1-5
SP+ Offensive Rating: 105th
SP+ Defensive Rating: 76th
Turnover Margin: -3
Three Things to Watch
Number of Indiana plays. I was stunned to see that Jer'zhan Newton had played the most snaps of any interior DL this year. Then I looked at the total plays Illinois had played against this season and was stunned (648). The key for Indiana is sustaining drives and wearing out the Illinois defense.
Red Zone Conversions. Indiana is one of the worst teams nationally turning red zone possessions into points. The Hoosiers average 4.1 points every time they get in the red zone (Illinois is at 5.6). Indiana needs to convert the opportunities they get into touchdowns vs. FGs.
Illinois Rushing Yards. Indiana is the worst team in the B1G at stopping the run. Illinois will want to pound the rock, and the Hoosiers need to slow down the rushing attack against a depleted Illinois RB corps.
Scouting Review - Offense
It's always fun to scout a team that fired their OC halfway through the year. Walt Bell started the year as the OC and was running the breakneck tempo. The Hoosiers were rotating two quarterbacks and generally unsure on offense. Tom Allen decided he had enough of the offensive woes and a defense getting gassed on the field and fired Bell.
Enter Rod Carey, new OC. Carey, the former NIU and Temple head coach, has been the replacement two years in a row for Indiana. Last year he took over as OL coach when Allen made a mid-season firing. Carey took over as OC, and made a switch at the QB position. Tayven Jackson, brother of TJD and Tennessee transfer, lost his starting job to Brendan Sorsby. Both QBs are freshmen, but Sorsby has thrown a single interception compared to the five thrown by Jackson. Carey's offense isn't fun, but it protects the ball. He has also slowed the pace, and suddenly the defense is allowing 100 yards fewer per game.
Sorsby is a North Texas QB, but a slightly different version of the player Wisconsin rolled out against Illinois. Sorsby played at Lake Dallas High School and a read option QB in a sea of Air Raids. He has a nice arm and is mobile. Growing up in the Texas Football Complex, he has a ton of experience and reads coverages well. He plays at Indiana because he is a runner and his arm isn't a cannon.
The Carey move also coincided with a change in the running back room. Jaylin Lucas and Wake Forest transfer Christian Turner were the main backs early in the year. Now Josh Henderson is taking the majority of the snaps. The running back room lacks a home run hitter, that was supposed to be Lucas. Carey has leaned into slow and steady running the ball vs. a boom or bust approach.
The top receiving option for Indiana is a former QB converted to WR, Donaven McCulley. McCulley is long and lanky like Deuce Spann, not a speedster in the vein of Isaiah Williams. McCulley is the first option in the red zone for the Hoosiers. Dequece Carter was brought in as a grad transfer in the off-season to supplement the receiving corps, and he broke a long play against Penn State. He's been very muted as an addition though. The leading pass catcher on the season is the RB Lucas, but his usage has reduced drastically under Carey.
The offensive line was a mess last year when Carey took over. Carey stabilized it, but Indiana was unable to make any significant talent adds in the off-season to upgrade. The combination of Sorsby and the OL improvement reduced the sacks allowed by Indiana and has allowed the Hoosiers to avoid big negative plays.
With Carey calling the plays, Indiana is staid and steady. The offense is perfect for the B1G West. The Hoosiers are not built to get behind the sticks and lack an explosive option on offense. Carey is going to remain committed to the run, and utilize Sorsby's running ability to challenge Illinois on the perimeter. Running QBs have created massive issues for Illinois this year.
The core play of the Hoosiers is a read-option inside zone play. This is the baseline of the Rod Carey offense and Indiana will use it to grind out yards. The Dive aspect of the give will allow Indiana to slowly advance the ball.
The RB in this case is Trent Howland, who is built in the mold of Josh McCray. Howland is a battering ram they will use to generate a few yards per play. Sorsby will keep the ball in the read-option look and is a solid runner.
Unless this was called a keep from the sideline, Sorsby read this wrong. He thought he had green on the outside, but was covered up by the secondary.
Against the 5-man front Illinois will use, the Hoosiers will begin to extend the formation and create additional run lanes for the backs. Indiana's right side of the line got great push here and created a vertical crease to run through.
Indiana will rotate through four different running backs. This is Christian Turner on this play. Turner, Howland, and Henderson will be the primary rush options, while Lucas is the passing threat.
The other main rush play Indiana will use is the Wham block, bringing the backside H-back to block across the formation. Illinois uses a 5-man front which could stymie the inside zone blocking. The OLBs for Illinois will need to collapse the backside and the DTs need to generate penetration to slow this play.
Indiana will bring read-option looks out of this blocking scheme as well.
The motion into the backfield allowed Indiana to run a triple-option look. The Triple look pulled the MLB (#17) to the perimeter, which opened the run lane for the running back. Carey will utilize the motion to bounce Illini defenders, then they'll use the read option.
Same blocking scheme, and Sorsby does a better job on the keep (and was aided by an amazing hold on the perimeter).
Indiana has leaned heavily into the zone read package and has used gap-blocking schemes sparingly. The few times I noticed them were in the red zone.
The interesting part is that the Hoosiers had the RB opposite the TE in this formation, whereas they typically stack the RB on the TE side in the zone-blocking scheme. Of the plays I pulled, they only ran them opposite on this play and the triple dive.
Indiana is a boring and predictable offense, which means that Carey can use that to his advantage. When he gets in 2nd and short situations, he doesn't try to go deep, he protects the ball by either running, or running a safe play-action pass.
Careytutilizes play-action here, and has max protection on. He was anticipating that Wisconsin was going to run blitz and used that to his advantage. He kept the play safe though with two short yardage hitches. Getting first downs is the key for Carey, plays like this are the foundation of moving the ball against Illinois.
The Rod Carey offense uses a ton of West Coast route concepts, but one they utilize more than others is a switch concept. Carey likes to cross his inside and outside receivers to pick opposing defenses, and Illinois should expect this when using man coverage. Here are three different switch concepts.
The switch routes help create clear open receivers for Sorsby. The defenders have to create space for the pick, which allows him a quick throw.
Another basic concept they run is levels. Illinois has been running more zone lately, and heavily leaning into Cover 2. This play was a West Coast staple.
Quarterbacks can be seduced by projecting where the defenders should be in their zones. Tony Adams had a memorable pick against Wisconsin by dropping out of his zone. Sorsby is the type of QB who can be seduced by that. When the Indiana OL struggled to block the Penn State defensive front, Carey began rolling Sorsby to get him moving to utilize his legs.
Indiana will most likely run quick game and try to make quick and easy reads for Sorsby. I expect to see them run more plays with 5-7 yard throws.
The Hitch routes are effective here with the trips formation. If the opponent is in the zone, the Hoosiers have a man advantage. If the opponent is in man, there will be a mismatch between the wideouts and the defenders.
Rod Carey is a former Indiana OL, and career OL coach. OL coaches and DCs have two things in common, they love to run the ball and control the tempo. Carey rose quickly in the ranks, moving from OL coach to OC, to head coach at NIU in short order. He was the play-caller for the Jordan Lynch NIU teams. Carey will attempt to control the game by running at Illinois.
Scouting Review - Defense
It's still Tom Allen's defense. That said, Matt Guerrieri is the DC and Safeties coach and play-caller. He spent most of his career coaching under David Cutcliffe, and cut his defensive coaching teeth under Jim Knowles (the Ohio State DC). Knowles was known as a prolific blitzer during his time at Duke and Oklahoma State, and Guerrieri has brought that mentality to Bloomington. Chad Wilt is the other Co-DC, and he spent part of his career with Joe Rossi who is the second blitziest DC in the B1G.
Rod Carey is running a bend but don't break offense, which doesn't pair well with a bend but don't break defense. Allen is running an aggressive scheme. The Hoosiers will need to snuff our the Illini rushing attack and put the game on the Illini passing attack. It puts the strength of Indiana in play, a pair of DL.
Aaron Casey is the Jack Linebacker in the scheme (#44) and has 13.5 TFL so far on the season. Casey is an undersized end who will create havoc for the Illini DL. I would look for Illinois to chip him. His partner in crime as the opposite DE is Andre Carter (#1), a transfer from Western Michigan. He has 7.0 TFL so far this season. Indiana will rely on them to pressure the Illini passing attack. For Indiana to fully leverage their talents, the Hooser interior DL will need to hold up against the Illini rushing attack. Illinois will look to run counter to kick the DEs and get downblocks on the interior.
The baseline of the Indiana defense is the 4-2-5 setup, running Cover 3 on the backend. Indiana runs robber coverage with their safeties taking away the middle. They'll press the outside receivers often as well.
Indiana does a nice job of keeping opposing receivers in front of them.
The Hoosiers will slant their DL against opponents to generate penetration and bounce running back. Feagin is a big back, but not the type of back to outrun opponents to the edge.
Indiana safeties are good at run support as seen here.
The aggressive part of the defense comes in the pressure the Hoosiers utilize. They will blitz from all over the field.
Indiana ran a split coverage on the backend to create confusion for the quarterback making quick decisions. This year the defense is struggling to create turnovers but has done a nice job of getting opponents behind the chains. They'll blitz the corner with other defensive layouts as well.
Rutgers loves to run their QB, so Illinois won't see this much blitzing to stop the run. Indiana will still use it to cut down Feagin in the run game though.
Indiana prefers to blitz the Star and LBs though.
Indiana will bring pressure to confuse the Illini OL, and the blitzing will help to short-circuit the Illini counter run scheme.
The Hoosiers will hope to overwhelm the Illini blocking scheme and stop the run game. Indiana will want to put the game on the arm of Altmyer and force him to make quick throws. Altmyer is known to put the ball into danger, and Indiana is hoping to create the turnovers. Indiana's best chance at winning the game is to get Illinois behind early and keep them behind the chains.
What does it mean?
Indiana offensively is only above Iowa in the conference this year. Their offense most closely resembles Northwestern of the last few seasons. The Hoosiers will need to move the ball and stay ahead of the chains, otherwise, it is a quick three and out. Indiana has to play even with Illinois and avoid falling behind early. If they are pressed to score, the wheels will come off.
The advantage for the Hoosiers is a competent, blitzing scheme. Both teams will try to control the tempo, so getting the offenses off schedule is the key for both defenses. Illinois has more success moving the ball than the Hoosiers, and do a better job converting red zone opportunities into points.
Illinois should have the advantage early, Lunney has been really solid on scripted drives. Illinois scoring early will get the Hoosiers off-balance which should open up opportunities for the Ilini defense to generate negative plays. The Illini have been inconsistent though, so Indiana should be able to stay within striking distance.
For Illinois to Win:
The Illini offense needs to build upon the game plan from Minnesota. Indiana defensively is blitz-happy just like the Gophers, so the Illini OL will need to protect Altmyer (or Paddock). Williams can be the difference maker again, and Lunney needs to figure out how to feed the studs.
Defensively, Illinois needs to contain a running QB. Indiana looks to grind out yards and will attempt to wear down the Illini defense. 2nd half Newton is a problem Indiana hasn't seen since Michigan, and they were stoned in that game. Illinois needs Newton and company to create Havoc.
The one thing Illinois showed last week was the ability to win while losing the turnover battle. It's a challenge they shouldn't try to replicate this week. An Illinois offense that protects the ball will score on the Hoosiers.
For Indiana to Win:
Tom Allen was on the hot seat earlier in the season but the Wisconsin victory has cooled his seat. His switch to Carey hasn't yielded the results Hoosier fans hoped for, but has ended the habit the Hoosiers had of beating themselves. Sorsby has given Indiana a pulse, and they need to lean into what they have found is working.
Indiana needs this game to be a full B1G West pain fest. They beat Wisconsin with 261 yards of offense. The Hoosiers made key plays when they needed them and won an ugly game. They will look for Sorsby to keep drives alive while protecting the ball. If they can do that, they can stay ahead of the sticks. That will allow them to put points on the board.
Illinois needs Altmyer to mimic the Sorsby plan. If he can keep drives alive with his legs and avoid costly turnovers, Illinois can move the ball. The Illini will need to convert yards to points and avoid costly penalties. The Hoosiers therefore will make Altmyer jumpy with blitzes.
Indiana is coming off a huge victory against Wisconsin, and somehow holds a four-game winning streak against Illinois. Indiana will look to muddy up the game and keep the game close. With a battered running back room, Illinois has limited options offensively. Illinois has won all four games by six points or fewer. Indiana is getting 7, I'll take Indiana to cover.
Craig YTD Against the Spread: