A View From The Booth: The Transition Game
Oct. 20, 2012
By Bob Socci
Even for a pretty fair typist, it’s not easy keeping up with the Indiana offense. So over the course of the next few minutes, please forgive any typos that appear before your eyes.
The Hoosiers’ hurry-up style simply doesn’t allow enough time to substitute edits, or rest one’s weary fingers.
In fact, in the minute or so it just took to pound out the previous two sentences on the keyboard, IU would have run three plays. The Hoosiers snap the football every 20.6 seconds, enabling them to average more than 79 plays per game. Last week alone, though Ohio State enjoyed a near 14-minute advantage in time of possession, the Buckeyes ran all of one more play than IU.
Considering the Hoosiers’ rich roots in an another sport, it’s an easy analogy to compare their up-tempo offense, conceived by second-year head coach Kevin Wilson, to that of a run-and-gun basketball team. Just think Loyola Marymount or UNLV of the late 80s and early 90s, rather than any of the great IU squads taking the court in their candy-stripe warm-ups.
So if trying to maintain pace while simply trying to describe the Hoosiers’ hectic no-huddle attack is so challenging, what will it be like today for Navy’s much-improved defense?
“They play at such a high tempo and high pace,” says head coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose watched his defense steadily improve, especially up front, where the Midshipmen continually rotate personnel. “Coach Wilson is one of the originators of that type of offense with Northwestern, took that style to Oklahoma, and has just continued to add on his offensive schemes. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
“It complicates (our rotation) a lot because they go so fast. We’ve got to be really precise and organized in some of our substitution patterns. It’s something we’ve got to work on and stress. They put such a premium on their pace in what they do, it makes it hard.”
To date, all those plays have led to a lot of yards and points -- IU averages 473.0 of the former and 35.5 of the latter per outing -- but not many victories. The Hoosiers have won only three times in Wilson’s first 18 games in Bloomington. So far, they’re 0-11 vs. the Big Ten on his watch.
“We’re making strides, but it’s not enough,” Wilson says.
Wilson inherited a program that’s experienced just one winning season since Indiana fired its all-time winningest coach Bill Mallory after the 1996 campaign. The previous nine years, Wilson was Oklahoma’s play-caller. In 2008 he oversaw a Sooners offense that surpassed 700 points, as quarterback Sam Bradford shared the backfield with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
Of course, that Oklahoma unit was loaded with talent, starting with Bradford, the eventual number-one pick in the NFL. Where Wilson truly made his mark, as Niumatalolo referenced, was at Northwestern.
Working alongside the late Randy Walker from 1999-2001, Wilson married concepts he’d learned from then Clemson assistant Rich Rodriguez with his own philosophy. The watershed performance for the Wildcats on his watch was a 54-51 win over Michigan in 2000.
Since arriving at Indiana, Wilson has begun turning the program over, beginning with the uniforms. Sure that seems to be the same, usually irrelevant starting point whenever a new coach moves in; but at least Wilson copied a traditional look like Oklahoma’s, instead of trending toward Oregon or Maryland.
More pertinent are the people filling those uniforms. With regards to them, Wilson and his staff set off a youth movement. After employing 32 freshmen, including 16 ‘true’ frosh, in 2011, Indiana features only eight seniors on its current roster. Twenty-two of the 29 starters this year are underclassmen.
Remarkably, three of them have played quarterback. Since sophomore Tre Roberson broke his leg in the second game, sophomore Cameron Coffman and freshman Nate Sudfield have split time as starter and reliever, respectively. Despite their youth and the position’s apparent instability, the Hoosiers have the Big Ten’s top passing offense.
What’s more, the Hoosiers have barely turned the ball over. As the nation’s lone team yet to lose a fumble, IU’s quarterbacks have thrown only two interceptions. And with a very young offensive line -- starting two freshmen and two sophomores -- they’ve only been sacked eight times.
Two of Wilson’s predecessors, Sam Wyche -- who was hired by the Bengals after only one year at Indiana -- and Cam Cameron -- the current Ravens assistant -- went on to oversee successful no-huddle offenses in the NFL. Wilson is doing it in college, right there in Bloomington.
In their 52-49 loss last Saturday night, the Hoosiers totaled 481 yards, while setting a school record for most points against a top 10 team. Granted, they produced 15 of those points in the final 6:47, after falling behind, 52-34. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer left with the same impression he already had of Wilson’s offensive scheme.
“We’ve stolen a lot of stuff (from him),” Meyer admitted, before echoing Niumatalolo. “He’s an innovator. I have a lot of respect for him...Indiana has the right coach now.”
Now that coach unleashes his offense in Annapolis, opposite a Navy defense that’s surrendered just 49 points in its last 16 quarters and an overtime. It’s the stingiest four-game stretch for the Mids since 1981.
Last Friday, they held Central Michigan -- a 32-31 winner earlier over Big Ten Iowa -- to one touchdown. Twice the Chippewas went from 1st-and-goal to a field goal. They finished 2-for-10 in 3rd-down conversion attempts.
With up-tempo Indiana up next, Navy faces an opponent that force them to not just sub fast, but play fast.
“It’s a really, really good offense. They’re very talented at all positions and have a complete package,” defensive coordinator Buddy Green told Bill Wagner of The Capital. “They really keep you off-balance with all the different phases of the offense. If you overplay the pass, they gash you in the running game. They have a good screen game, will hit you with slants and underneath passes, but will also throw the ball deep. They do a great job of utilizing all their weapons."
And they do it all at break-neck speed. Yet for Green’s improved group on defense, the expectation more than hope, is that the Mids will be in far better shape to keep up than a fatigued typist who’s run out of keystrokes.