Monday, October 11, 2010

Football Depth Crucial to Indiana’s Bowl Hopes

If you’ve followed Indiana football over the years, you know the months of October and November are often unkind to the Hoosiers.

There are lots of reasons for this, the No. 1 being Big Ten firepower. IU, like many programs, loads up on weaker non-conference opponents, then struggles against the better conference teams.

Yes, the Hoosiers have certainly struggled in their 0-2 Big Ten start, losing a cliffhanger to Michigan, getting crushed by Ohio State.

However, injuries and lack of depth also have contributed to October and November struggles. IU has a hard time matching the depth of the Big Ten powers. Starters can often stay with the conference’s best, but when injuries hit, the talent drop off is too extreme for the Hoosiers to compete.

Why is that relevant? Because depth was an issue in the Ohio State loss.

IU faced Ohio State without two offensive line starters -- right tackle James Brewer because of an ankle sprain, right guard Marc Damisch because of the death of his father. During the game, center Will Matte and left tackle Andrew McDonald got hurt.

As a result, reserve linemen Pat McShane, Jordan Marquette, Colin Rodkey, Josh Hager and Chris Ahlfed all saw extensive action.

In previous years, this might have meant disaster. While the offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Ben Chappell and open holes for the running game last Saturday, much of that had to do with the quality of Ohio State’s defense rather than the poor play of the line.

The reason came down to preparation. IU coaches, recognizing the importance of depth, gave the second and third string players lots of practice time in training camp rather than send them to the scout team to mimic the plays of opposing teams.

“One thing we did this summer on purpose, probably more so than any team I’ve been around, is that we repped our two’s and three’s a lot,” coach Bill Lynch said. “We did it with this in mind, as injuries mount, we want guys who have been working in our offense for a long time.

“At some places, the one’s (starters) and two’s (backups) are the only guys who get the work. Studying our past, we have run into some injuries or some depth situations, so we want guys who have run our offense and not calling guys back from the scout field who haven’t run our offense since the third week of camp.

“We want to make sure they understand all the calls, the blocking and protection schemes. I feel good about that. We had guys in there that had practices and there weren’t any mental mistakes or breakdowns that way.”

In other words, Hoosier reserves might have gotten by beat better Ohio State starters, but they didn’t beat themselves by making silly mistakes or not knowing what they were doing.

Let’s face it, even with a fully healthy team IU wasn’t going to win at Ohio State. It has lost 16 straight to the Buckeyes, most by a wide margin. The last time the Hoosiers played them close was in 1993, when they lost 23-17.

The potential silver lining is that the experience gained by the reserves, and all the backups who played Saturday, could help in future games.

Could, of course, doesn’t mean will. But it does suggest that maybe, just maybe, these guys can develop and sustain enough to win the four more games necessary to guarantee a bowl bid.

It starts, and certainly doesn’t end, with Saturday’s Homecoming game against Arkansas State.

1 comment:

  1. Sound plan to better maximize against deeper teams and also gain valuable experience. Let's hope it pays off down the road & our guys stay more healthy & win more games. OSU is a national championship contender. So, don't take this loss as any indication of the team's progress, they were really tough, most likely the toughest game all season. Get ready for this Saturday, time to get the train back on track!