After a bye week hiatus, we’re back with the scouting report. Up next, the Indiana Hoosiers. This is the first time the Huskers and Hoosiers have matched up in the Big 10, and though the Blackshirts may have liked the match up a few years ago, that’s far less true today. In a statistical oddity, Indiana’s offense is ranked 39th in total offense but only 84th in scoring offense. As can be expected, that is largely due to a putrid red zone offense, sitting at 124th (out of 128) in the country.
In other words, this is the perfect type of game to get Nebraska fans needlessly riled up, and not in a good way. The Blackshirts have shown a tendency to give up yards before ultimately tightening up inside the 20. If that holds against Kevin Wilson’s Indiana offense, it’ll make for some serious heartburn for total yardage watchers. Let’s take a look at how Indiana likely puts up those yards.
Game(s) Scouted: Wake Forest, Michigan State
For those of you who don’t remember Kevin Wilson, he was the co-OC and then OC when Oklahoma put up a billion yards on offense between 2002 and 2010. Though the wins haven’t been plentiful in his time in Bloomington, his offensive production has carried over from his Boomer Sooner days. Wilson has a sort of Nutty Professor vibe to him. He wanders the sideline rocking reading glasses with a large play sheet attached to his hands at all times, and he runs the Hoosiers’ offense as a “check with me system.” In other words, prepare yourself for plenty of the Indiana offense running to the line of scrimmage, pausing to look over at Wilson while the camera cuts away to him pouring over the defensive alignment, and then snapping the ball once he’s got everything set just as he likes it.
And for all the jokes about Wilson’s studious sideline demeanor, he’s a brilliant play caller and the main reason why Indiana’s offense has a chance against just about anybody. Not much different than Nebraska’s Danny Langsdorf, everything Wilson calls has a purpose, and he’s excellent at blending concepts that bait a defense to overplay them before pulling the chair out and morphing that concept into something else to gain leverage on a defender.
The issue right now is he doesn’t have a plethora of talent available to him. Indiana has a pretty good back in Devine Redding, and they’ve got a pair of receivers to go with him. But they’re relatively weak on the line and their new QB is on his third FBS school and wears #21. Suffice it to say that’s not ideal from the most important position on the field.
So with that, my player to watch is senior wide receiver Ricky Jones. Jones is listed at a generous 5’10″/185 in the program, but he plays a whole lot bigger than that. He’s got great acceleration out of his breaks, and he can both make a guy miss and run right over him as well. Perhaps most important, Wilson does a great job moving Jones around on the field from out wide into the slot to get him favorable personnel match ups against the defense’s weaker coverage guys. If we somehow control him, we’ll control the Hoosiers’ passing game. If not, though, look out because he can play.
Formations and Personnel
For Husker fans wondering what the offense will look like next year with Tommy Armstrong out and either Tanner Lee or Patrick O’Brien in, the Hoosiers hit the schedule at the perfect time. The reason? Wilson’s offense looks eerily similar to Langsdorf’s but without the QB run game that we’ve leaned on this year.
Indiana is primarily an 11 personnel shotgun team, though they’re not afraid to dip into 10 personnel or go the other way to 12 or 21 personnel as well. Most often they line the back up next to the QB, but after checking with Wilson on the sideline, they’ll frequently move to the Pistol as well. And, much like the Huskers, the Hoosiers will detach a tight end into the slot or at times even as the #2 receiver in 3×1 sets. They’ll also line the tight end up off the line of scrimmage in Y Off looks to run inside zone Slice and play action off of it.
In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of Kevin Wilson’s offense. He loves to move players around on the chess board to non-traditional spots to get favorable match ups with his personnel. So you’ll see a fair helping of the tight end lining up in odd spots, and you may also see Wilson’s 270lb freshmen running back Tyler Natee (affectionately nicknamed “Big Bacon”) lined up in the Wildcat formation.
They also love to alter their wide receiver splits with tight and stacked looks, frequently using one receiver to run off vertical coverage or stemming both receivers on the same initial path to try and confuse coverage responsibilities.
So when you watch the game on Saturday, do so knowing that this Indiana offense may look a lot like the one Nebraska is moving to in 2017. And the success of the Hoosiers offense over the past few years should give Husker fans some comfort that yes, even without a running QB, you can still move the ball down the field.
Concepts and Motions
For the second straight game, Nebraska faces an offense that loves to move offensive linemen around in the running game. The Hoosiers love the pull the center and the backside OT in their sweep game, though they’re also diverse enough on offense that they’ll pull play side linemen to attack the same side as the back as well. Wilson will also call quick pitches designed to take advantage of the edge defender’s leverage and alignment.
And that’s what makes Wilson so brilliant. The Hoosiers are about as tendency free as you can be on offense, as they’re equally able to attack both sides of the field from every formation they line up in. And they have concepts that blend seamlessly together, able to adjust to what the defense throws at them without having to burn mental energy to do it.
As for the personnel, Devine Redding is a pretty slick back who loves to bend the ball to the backside on zone runs. It’ll be important for the Husker defenders to stay sound in their gaps, and Nebraska’s safeties will have to come down to clean up that bend back by Redding. When Indiana gets into the second half, they’ll give Redding a blow with Mike Majette, Devonte Williams, and the aforementioned Big Bacon.
And while the Indiana running game is pretty solid, it’s the passing game where Wilson’s brilliance really shines. Jones is my pick to click, but it could easily be the Hoosiers’ other big play receiver, Nick Westbrook. Wilson likes to work Westbrook vertical off play action while often bringing Jones underneath him as a second option. That’s not ideal for defenses, as it often means one of them sees solo coverage.
The Hoosiers have a screen package, mostly relying on the Slip screen to the backs and then bubble screens to the WRs. And though they don’t throw many true screens, they love to show that action just enough to get defenses committed to it. When they get there, Wilson will turn those bubble screens into wheel routes to attack overeager LBs and slot defenders. One of the Hoosiers’ best concepts is the Slant/Bubble look straight out of the Huskers’ playbook.
You’ll also see the same horizontal stretch concept used in the Slant/Flat combo, and the Hoosiers WRs are great at faking a block before sneaking off on the Slant. As with much of Wilson’s complementary offense, once the defense starts attacking that Slant, they’ll work the Flat to the back while using the Slant to pick a defender. Much like the Bubble to Wheel concept, they’ll also bend those Flat routes into Wheel routes from slot receivers.
And if that’s not enough for you, Wilson is no stranger to trick plays, and he’ll use everyone in the offense to run them. He also loves to attack LBs with RBs in the passing game, running them vertically out of the backfield after WRs have run off coverage. And of course, as with his WRs, he loves the Wheel route to the RB as well once the defense starts to jump the Slant/Flat combo from above.
So why hasn’t Wilson’s offense been more productive on the year? An offensive line that isn’t as good as last year’s group makes life difficult in the red zone, along with the loss of running back Jordan Howard to the NFL. And of course, as we’ll discuss next, the QB position.
The Hoosiers’ offense is manned by Richard Lagow, perhaps the only QB in the country to wear a number in the twenties:
Just like Wes Lunt, the last QB the Blackshirts faced, Lagow took a turn in Stillwater playing for Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys. Unlike Lunt, however, Lagow started at UConn before transferring to OSU, and he then left for Cisco Community College before meandering up to Bloomington and Wilson’s offense.
In a lot of ways, Lagow is still an unknown quantity. When given time, he has a big arm and can hit all of the throws needed in Wilson’s vertical play action attack. At the same time, he also struggles seeing defenders dropping in zone coverage and also tends to have too much confidence in that strong arm when the timing of the play is off. His season started off great, with 4 TDs and 0 INTs against FIU and Ball State. He’s come back down to earth in his last 3 games, with 7 TDs and 5 INTs against Wake Forest, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Lagow is not a running threat, with only 22 yards gained on the year and a season-long run of 9 yards. This makes the Hoosiers’ run game easier to deal with than if Lagow could move, but Wilson protects this aspect by running a lot of play action off his run game and holding edge defenders with bubble screens and crossing routes from the slot receivers.
Which version of Lagow will the Huskers get in this game? Who knows. The Blackshirts front 7 has had issues stopping the run this year, and that means there should be windows for him to throw in the play action game. That said, Nebraska should be in its Nickel package most of the day, and Aaron Williams has been fantastic closing up a lot of space in the passing game while still being able to play edge runs as well.
I think the Blackshirts continue Lagow’s interception streak, though I don’t think it’s going to be a field day for Lockdown U. Mark me down for two Lagow interceptions on the day.
Indiana is going to move the ball in this game. Wilson is too good as a play caller, the Blackshirts defense has yet to put together a shutdown four quarters, and both Ricky Jones and Westbrook will have room to run off play action. That said, with Lagow showing no threat to run, Nebraska should be able to slow down the Hoosiers’ rushing attack enough to prevent an all-out assault on the stat sheet in terms of both yards and points.
I think it’s a game where Lagow puts up sizable yardage in the passing game, perhaps even becoming the first QB to top 300 yards against the Blackshirts in 2016, but also doubling down with interceptions to negate some of that statistical production. Nebraska’s LBs will need to be on point in coverage, as Wilson will attack them with Redding, Majette, and Williams in the passing game.
Conceptually, this will be a test for the Huskers because of how much Indiana does with its offense. I say the Hoosiers get to 24 points in the game, with over 450 yards on the day. Ultimately, though, I don’t think it’s going to be enough for them to win the game. And that’s because of their defense, which we’ll discuss tomorrow.