HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE OF THE DAY, Oct. 30, 2012
It’s a sight to warm the heart of an old wishbone fullback like me, who believes offensive line play is as big a key to successful football as anything else.
The Indiana football two-deep chart released Monday looks much the same as it has most of the season, including the listings for offensive line.
Stalwart center Will Matte, who now has 41 career starts, is the only offensive lineman in his final season of eligibility. Every other starter is due back next year.
And the year after that.
That’s right. All the other starters are sophomores and freshmen. And that goes for all the backups, too, except for Charlie Chapman, a junior currently listed as the backup to starting left tackle and true freshman Jason Spriggs.
Think about that for a second. Indiana’s starting offensive line in the fall of 2014 might still include Spriggs, classmate Dan Feeney (right guard) and current sophomores Bernard Taylor (left guard) and Peyton Eckert (right tackle).
Not that it necessarily will of course, given further recruiting and other circumstances that might intervene. But consider that four starters on IU’s present offensive line could still be in place two autumns from now — two years older, two years stronger, two years more experienced under the tutelage of coach Greg Frey.
I felt Frey worked wonders last fall, cobbling together a functional line out of disparate, unproven parts during what was a very daunting first season in Bloomington for Kevin Wilson’s staff.
Then I saw what I felt was the best-looking group of offensive linemen I’ve seen matriculate in Bloomington for many a moon arrive this fall.
Spriggs and Feeney pretty much moved right into the starting lineup and have both mostly shined, given their tender years. And IU fans haven’t yet gotten to see freshman classmates Dimitric Camiel, Jacob Bailey and Wes Rogers in action, but they will. All five freshmen o-line guys, including the three guys currently redshirting, are big, rangy, athletic dudes.
Add to them sophomore reserves who have already seen some snaps, such as Cody Evers, Pete Bachman, Bill Ivan and Jake Reed and redshirt freshmen Ralston Evans, David Kaminski and Greg Lewis.
And, well, you get the idea. That amounts to more than a dozen young linemen on scholarship with whom Frey can work presumably through the end of this season and the following two seasons, not counting the recruits who will subsequently arrive in the interim. And there is already some real talent in that group.
Indiana is currently averaging a decent 4.4-yard average per rush, a figure that would be enhanced a bit if Tre Roberson had been quarterbacking past the second game of the season, given his ability to avoid sacks and make plays with his feet.
But even with current quarterbacks Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld not possessing that sort of elusiveness and “escapability,” IU has surrendered just 11 sacks all season (while Hoosier defenders have sacked opposing quarterbacks 20 times.)
Such stats speaks volumes. IU’s offensive line perhaps isn’t yet playing dominant football, and has a lot of improving to do, but is already providing some pretty adequate performance at a very young collective age. It benefits immensely from the leadership of Matte, who most certainly will be missed when his Indiana career concludes, but a lot of the pieces already in place seem foundational for future seasons.
And while there are a lot of optimistic signs to cite regarding Wilson’s program right now, none looms larger to me than the status and promise of the offensive line.
A good offensive line means a team can run. It means it can protect its passer. Which means it can control the ball. Which means it can rest its defense. And so on. The ramifications are far-reaching. To say it all starts up front with that center snap is more than just literally true. Take it from this old fullback. The team with the better offensive line usually wins.
Indiana has pretty much always been able to recruit adequate “skill position” talent on offense, but historically hasn’t always had the material or wherewithal to win in the trenches.
That could be changing right before our eyes.