Tuesday, March 15, 2016 7:37 pm
Linemen at center of IU's success
TERRY HUTCHENS | Associated Press
BLOOMINGTON – When looking for reasons why Indiana is 4-0 for the first time in 25 years, look right up front.
The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in scoring and total offense, and boast the nation’s leading rusher in Jordan Howard. But the story behind the story is a powerful, experienced offensive line that is opening big holes and protecting the quarterback as well.
Indiana has surrendered a league-low two sacks, and is averaging 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
As Indiana (4-0) gets ready to host defending national champion and No. 1 Ohio State (4-0) on Saturday, all eyes will be on the players up front to see if they can continue their great start against an elite opponent like the Buckeyes.
"You know how good an offensive line can be by the way they work in practice and these guys work hard every single day and they’re the reason why we have had so much offensive success," said Howard, who leads the nation with 675 rushing yards and is second nationally with 168.8 yards per game.
Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld is quick to give his linemen all the credit. He is second in the Big Ten in passing yards and second with 285.8 passing yards per game. His one interception ties for the conference lead in that category as well.
"They are unbelievably physical, they control the line of scrimmage, both in running the ball and pass protection, and their communication is great," Sudfeld said. "I just think they take pride in keeping me upright and getting holes for Jordan and Devine (Redding)."
The anchors on the line are senior left tackle Jason Spriggs and junior right guard Dan Feeney. Spriggs has started at least 10 games in each of his first three seasons, and has 38 career starts. Feeney started 12 games in each of his first two seasons and has 28 career starts.
Neither of the players has allowed a sack this season in 146 called passing attempts. Feeney, a 6-4, 310-pounder, has a team-high 29 knockdowns in 344 plays. Spriggs, a 6-7, 305-pounder, has 23 knockdowns in 336 plays.
"We take a lot of pride in what we’re able to do as an offensive line group," Spriggs said. "But it’s really a complete team effort that includes great blocking from the tight end and receiving positions and then our guys in the backfield are just doing a great job for us."
Fifth-year senior center Jake Reed came to Indiana as a defensive lineman and switched to tight end in preseason practice before his freshman year. The 6-4, 300-pound lineman has played offensive line the past three seasons and has recorded 13 starts. Junior Dimitric Camiel is a 6-7, 310-pound right tackle starting for the first time this season. The same is true for left guard Wes Martin, a 6-3, 312-pounder.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said the line play has continued to evolve in each of his five seasons.
"We have the total package (with our offense)," Johns said. "It’s not just Jordan Howard. There are some big, strong men up there blocking for him. Over the course of our five years here, that offensive line has continued to evolve and get bigger and better and stronger every year."