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Scouting Indiana: A look at the 2015 Hoosiers

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Indiana junior running back Jordan Howard (8) runs with the ball. Credit: Courtesy of Haley Ward / Indiana Daily Student

Indiana junior running back Jordan Howard (8) runs with the ball during a game against Florida International . Credit: Courtesy of Haley Ward / Indiana Daily Student

The last time the Indiana football program was undefeated through four games, George H.W. Bush was the president and the average price of gas was $1.16 per gallon. It was 1990.

It’s been a quarter century but coach Kevin Wilson finally has the Hoosiers 4-0 again.

Nonconference play is over and now they have their biggest test to date on Saturday as No. 1 Ohio State is scheduled to be in Bloomington, Indiana, for the Big Ten season opener.

Here is a look at the 2015 Hoosiers:

Time of possession

A key reason why Indiana is off to its hot start is because it is controlling the clock.

In three of their four games, the Hoosiers won the possession battle over their respective opponents. The only time they didn’t was in their season-opening victory over Southern Illinois, but it still was close, as the Salukis only had possession for 1:04 more than the Hoosiers.

The ability to keep its opponent’s offenses off the field has been critical in securing victories, because Indiana’s defense has been a liability. The Hoosiers rank 117th out of 127 in the nation in total defense due to surrendering nearly 500 yards per game.

The more time Indiana’s defensive players have their helmets off and are on the sidelines, the better. In a sense, the Hoosiers play defense by keeping their offense on the turf.

OSU’s defense is a superior unit to any the Hoosiers have played so far, but if Indiana can find a way to keep its offense — which ranks 18th in the country — on the field and control the clock, the probability of advancing to 5-0 for the first time since 1967 definitely improves.

Blazing defenses

Running back Jordan Howard’s dominance has been instrumental in the Hoosiers controlling the clock and their overall offensive prowess.

The junior is in his first year with the program after spending his first two years playing for the UAB Blazers. He was granted a free transfer after UAB’s football program was shut down.

Through four games, Howard has been the go-to weapon for Wilson’s squad.

Howard leads the country in rushing yards as he has amassed 675 yards on 111 carries — an  average of 6.1 yards per carry — while finding the end zone four times.

The success is not a case of beginner’s luck after transferring to a new school. In 2014 for UAB, the Gardendale, Alabama, native set a school rushing record with 1,587 yards and 13 scores. His 132.3 yards per game average was seventh best in the country last season.

His proven ability at UAB plus the experienced Indiana offensive line — which is anchored by senior left tackle Jason Spriggs and redshirt junior right guard Dan Feeney, who combined have 66 starts between them — all adds up to the reason why defenses have had trouble slowing Howard down.

The Buckeye run defense was exposed a little bit against Western Michigan as it gave up 169 yards, its highest rushing total allowed so far in 2015. If Howard and the offensive line can capitalize off the success WMU had, the Hoosiers might have a shot at topping OSU for the first time since 1988.

Sorry secondary

As mentioned above, the defense has been the weakest link so far for the undefeated Hoosiers, ranking 10th from last in total defense.

However, that underwhelming team ranking mostly falls on the shoulders of the secondary, as the rushing defense is only allowing opponents to pick up 138.5 yards per game — which is only 17 more than OSU averages.

Indiana ranks second to last in passing yards allowed, with 360 per contest. The origin of this woe comes from the unit’s youth.

On the Hoosiers’ two-deep, every member of the secondary is either a freshman or sophomore in eligibility. Two true freshmen — safety Jonathan Crawford and cornerback Andre Brown Jr. — are listed as starters.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Rashard Fant played in all 12 games last year and has been decent at times this year, but he is surrounded by inexperienced teammates and it is showing.

Fant can only guard one guy at a time, so the lack of game reps by the others in the defensive backfield are allowing teams to pick up yards through the air nearly at-will.

OSU’s passing game has yet to find its full stride but it started to show improvements in last week’s win. That has to concern Wilson because of how his secondary is playing. He has to hope for redshirt junior Cardale Jones to make self-inflicted mistakes or it could be a long day for the Hoosier defense.

Beyond the Buckeyes

Following Saturday’s game, Indiana will continue with Big Ten play as it is scheduled face Penn State at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 10. Kickoff has not yet been announced.

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