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Kevin Wilson’s air-first offense had never struggled to score points until the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld to a season-ending shoulder injury at Iowa in the sixth game of the 2014 season.

Backup Chris Covington was also knocked out for the year in the same game. Air Indiana became Ground Indiana. The Hoosiers completed just one touchdown pass in the final six games.

Tevin Coleman was a beast, finishing second to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon in rushing in the Big Ten with 2,036 yards. Coleman finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy race and the Hoosiers were third in the league in rushing. But Wilson’s team was dead last in passing at 141.1 yards a game.

Then there’s the defense. Indiana was 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense (182.7 yards), 13th in scoring defense (182.7) and 14th in pass defense (250.7).

It all adds up to a disastrous season (4-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten). Sudfeld is back, but good things need to happen for Wilson to return in 2016. Granted, he took over a downtrodden program that has struggled to find success in the shadow of Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers have been to just one bowl game since 1993.

But Wilson’s Hoosiers have won just six of their 32 Big Ten games during his four-year watch and are 14-34 overall.

Spring buzz

The secondary was already an area of concern heading into the season. That was magnified when the only returning starter, safety Antonio Allen, was dismissed from the team in June after being charged with selling drugs to an informant.

Run defense should be the strength of this team, which switched to a 3-4 scheme when Brian Knorr was hired as defensive coordinator last season. Four of Indiana’s five returning starters on defense are linemen Nate Hoff, Darius Latham, Nick Mangieri and Adarius Rayner.

T.J. Simmons is the only returning linebacker, so that will make it even more important for the line to slow down the run at the point of attack. A defense that allowed 7.4 yards per play against Big Ten opponents reduced that to 6.4 in 2014. That number will need to shrink even more.

Still be to settled

Sudfeld is back, but who will he throw to? Indiana’s three leading receivers from a season ago — Shane Wynn (56 catches, 708 yards, 3 TDs) Coleman (25 catches, 141 yards) and Nick Stoner (22 catches, 217 yards, 1 TD) — are gone. The top target could be J-Shun Harris II (18 catches, 168 yards, 2 TDs).

Filling the void left by Coleman on the ground might be easier. Running back Jordan Howard transferred in from Alabama-Birmingham when it dropped its program. Howard was the nation’s seventh-leading rusher last season at 132.3 yards per game (1,587 yards, 13 TDs). He had more than 2,400 yards in two seasons with the Blazers.

Sudfeld should have time to operate behind center. Indiana returns starting offensive linemen Ralston Evans, Dan Feeney, Jake Reed and Jason Spriggs, the guys who gave Coleman room to operate last season. Tight ends Michael Cooper and Anthony Corsaro are also back.

Our take

Stopping opponents will be challenging for the Hoosiers again, especially against the pass. If Howard is as good as advertised, then he should rack up some pretty impressive numbers behind a better-than-average line. And that will do nothing but help Sudfeld’s passing options.

But it’s the defense that could well determine Wilson’s fate at the school. If the Hoosiers have to score a lot of points to beat people, this will not end well.

About this series

In advance of the conference’s media days July 30-31, Hawk Central is examining the prospects of each program in the league. Find the stories first at HawkCentral.com.

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