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Previewing the 2016 Indiana Hoosiers

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Michigan State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Indiana didn’t exactly set the world on fire in September. The Hoosiers opened the season with a 34-13 victory over Florida International then a 30-20 victory over Ball State. But then Indiana stumbled in a 33-28 maddening loss to Wake Forest to close the non-conference season at 2-1, which certainly seemed to suggest that Indiana might be heading for another .500 season.

In October, the Hoosiers are .500, which actually seems to be an optimistic sign considering the competition. The Hoosiers upset Michigan State 24-21 in overtime then kept things respectable on the road in a 38-17 loss to Ohio State. Defense had been an afterthought in Indiana for most of the Kevin Wilson era, but new defensive coordinator Tom Allen seems to have invigorated the Hoosiers on defense. Last week, Indiana held Ohio State nearly 200 yards and 20 points under their offensive average. Indiana’s defense is ranked 48th nationally in total defense, giving up 375 yards per game and 51st in scoring defense, allowing 25 points a game. The Hoosiers are a little softer against the run (ranking 73rd nationally, giving up 169.6 yards per game) than against the pass (ranking 36th, allowing 205.4 yards per game).

Junior linebacker Tegray Scales leads the Hoosier defense with 45 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and two quarterback hurries. Fellow linebacker Marcus Oliver, who led Indiana last year in tackles, is second with 36 in 2016. The duo have combined to force three fumbles this season. Defensive tackle Nate Hoff leads the defensive line with 15 tackles (three for a loss), while the leaders in the secondary are safeties Jonathan Crawford (28 tackles, two fumble recoveries) and Tony Fields (23 tackles, five pass breakups) along with cornerback Rashard Fant (eight pass breakups and an interception).

Quarterback Richard Lagow is completing 60% of his passes and averaging 292 yards per game. He’s thrown 11 touchdown passes with seven interceptions. Lagow isn’t much of a threat to run this season; he’s lost 31 yards on the ground this season with a touchdown. Running back Devine Redding is averaging 98 yards a game and 4.7 yards per carry. He hasn’t scored this season, though. Indiana’s only other rushing touchdown came from big freshman Tyler Natee, who can play both running back AND quarterback.

Sophomore wide receiver Nick Westbrook leads Indiana with 20 catches for 437 yards and four touchdowns; Westbrook was pressed into action when junior Simmie Cobbs injured his ankle in his first action of the season; Cobbs could miss the entire season. Mitchell Page has 22 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns while Ricky Jones has caught 18 passes for 390 yards and a touchdown.

With Oregon seemingly in a downward free-fall, Indiana arguably is better than anybody Nebraska has played thus far in 2016. (Wyoming is the only Husker opponent with a winning record.) This would seem to be a really good week for Nebraska to get off to and sustain a fast start, as Indiana might be good enough to withstand any fourth quarter comeback the Huskers might surmount. They definitely look better in October than they appeared this summer, as I thought in the summer preview, which is provided below:

It's finally arrived at long last! Nebraska is in their sixth Big Ten season, but hasn't played theIndiana Hoosiers in football yet. In fact, the two schools haven't met since 1978. In 1978, the Hoosiers finished 4-7 under head coach Lee Corso (ESPN wasn't even on the air at that time). Fresh off a 14-7 upset of #15 Washington, I.M. Hipp scored four times in the first quarter, enroute to a 69-17 thrashing by the twelfth-ranked Huskers.

38 years later, the Huskers and Hoosiers meet once again in Bloomington. The Hoosiers enjoy a 9-7-3 series advantage over Nebraska, thanks to going undefeated in ten games in the 1940s and 1950s. Prior to 1941 and after 1960, the Huskers went 7-0-2 against Indiana. Last season, Indiana went 6-6 in the regular season, but only 2-6 in conference play. The Hoosers lost 44-41 to Duke in overtime at the Pinstripe Bowl; it wasn't the only shootout game Indiana played last season. Big scores have been a mark of Kevin Wilson's tenure at Indiana; the Hoosiers lost 55-52 to Rutgers, 52-26 to Michigan State, 48-41 to Michigan (in double overtime) and beat Purdue 54-36.

Indiana's high octane offense will have to find a new quarterback, with Nate Sudfeld off to the NFL in Washington. The heir apparent appears to be junior college transfer Richard Lagow(6'6" 240 lbs.), whose route to Bloomington started at UConn before transferring to Oklahoma State and then Cisco Junior College. In eight games last season at Cisco, Lagow completed 66% of his passes for 2,285 yards and 21 touchdowns, with ten interceptions. Junior Zander Diamont (6'1" 174 lbs.) has started six games his first two seasons; he nearly led Indiana to an upset of Ohio State last season with a 79 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but struggled in most of his starts. Last season, he completed 15 of 31 passes for 166 yards and 49% of his passes in his career.

Junior Devine Redding (5'10" 205 lbs.) started four games at running back last season, rushing for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns as a backup to Jordan Howard, who declared early for the NFL and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 5th round. Redding came on strong at the end of the season; he had rushed for 511 yards in the first ten games last season, and 501 in the last three games. Against Duke in the bowl game, he rushed 35 times for 227 yards, and in that closing three game stretch, Redding averaged nearly 6.2 yards per carry. Sophomore Mike Majette (5'11" 204 lbs.) rushed 37 times for 181 yards last season; his load will certainly increase as the backup. Junior Camion Patrick (6'2" 233 lbs.) was the scout team player of the year while redshirting last year, and was impressive until tearing his ACL in the spring. He could be cleared to return to action in October. Head coach Kevin Wilson calls Patrick the most talented of the bunch.

While there is uncertainty as to who will be throwing the ball for Indiana this season, there isn't any on the receiving side, where last year's top three receivers return. Junior Simmie Cobbs (6'4" 220 lbs.) caught 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns last season; if he cuts down on his drops, he could be a conference honoree after the season with decent quarterback play. Senior Ricky Jones (5'10" 184 lbs.) caught 54 passes for 906 yards and five touchdowns last season. Senior Mitchell Paige (5'7" 175 lbs.) caught 57 passes for 684 yards and six touchdowns in the slot, replacing sophomore J-Shun Harris (5'8" 170 lbs.) who missed last season with a torn ACL. Harris started six games as a freshman and was expected to be Indiana's top receiver last year; he should be ready to play this season.

Three starters return on the offensive line, led by third team all-American right guard Dan Feeney (6'4" 310 lbs.), who elected to return for his senior season. Sophomore Brandon Knight (6'5" 290 lbs.) has the unenviable task of replacing third-team all-American Jason Spriggs (second round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers) at left tackle. Senior right tackle Dimitric Camiel (6'7 310 lbs.) has started 18 games in his Indiana career and should be solid as well.

But for as good the Indiana offense has been under Kevin Wilson, the defense has been just plain awful: 120th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. Out goes Brian Knorr as defensive coordinator, in comes Tom Allen from Ole Miss and South Florida. Allen's track record on improving defenses hits every stop on his brief college coaching career. But Allen will have to start without any returning starters on the defensive line. Junior defensive tackle Nate Hoff (6'2" 302 lbs.) did start eight games in 2014 with 29 tackles (8.5 for a loss). He'll be matched up with junior Robert McCray (6'2" 274 lbs.) on the inside; he had 17 tackles last season as a backup.

Indiana returns their top three linebackers from last season, but one might not start in 2016, as Allen prefers to run a 4-2-5 defense. (Think a full time nickel back or maybe the Pelini brothers' "Peso") Junior Marcus Oliver (6'1' 236 lbs.) was Indiana's leader last season with 112 tackles, while junior Tegray Scales (6'0" 227 lbs.) is considered by the Indianapolis Star to be the Hoosiers' best defensive player. Senior T.J. Simmons (6'0" 229 lbs.) might be the odd man out after a 73 tackle season in 2015.

A very green secondary was the Achilles heel for the Indiana defense last year, but now with a year of seasoning, should be improved. Sophomore safety Jonathan Crawford (6'2" 194 lbs.) was second on the Hoosers last year with 76 tackles as a true freshman. Junior cornerbackRashard Fant (5'10" 174 lbs.) broke up 22 passes last season and added 52 tackles. Junior Ben Bach (6'1" 195 lbs.) looks to have the inside track to be that fifth "Husky" back in the secondary.

Indiana's high octane offense has seemed to be pretty resilient to personnel changes up to now, so it's probably a safe bet that Indiana will put points on the board in 2016. However, the lack of experience on the defensive line might limit the upside a new defensive coordinator can provide on that side of the ball. But any improvement might be enough to get Indiana over .500 in 2016, and that could make the Hoosiers a team to be wary of on Nebraska's schedule.