BLOOMINGTON – There was one major bright spot last season for the Indiana football team despite a 4-8 record including a 1-7 Big Ten mark – the running game.
The Hoosiers ranked ninth nationally in 2014, running for 263 yards per game. Most of the production came from junior Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a program-record 2,036 yards, earned All-American honors and finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting before heading off to the NFL.
What made Coleman’s numbers even more impressive is that, after quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s season-ending injury halfway through the year, defenses knew to expect a heavy rushing attack from the Hoosiers. Backup quarterback Zander Diamont averaged just 85 passing yards over the final six contests, and the team kept the ball on the ground for 65 percent of its offensive plays.
Now, heading into this season without Coleman, the question of whether his production can be replaced lingers. There are six running backs on the roster, but coach Kevin Wilson expects two of them, junior UAB transfer Jordan Howard and sophomore Devine Redding, to carry the majority of the workload.
"(We’ll be) counting on Jordan and Devine to be the bell cows, and we’ll see how much they want," Wilson said. "I think Jordan Howard is good. I think Devine is going to be really good. It’s going to be interesting to see how much they want, when you start feeding them the ball. I mean, do you really want it? Are you going to bring it and bring it day after day? You knew Tevin was going to bring it."
Howard transfers to Indiana after a season in which he rushed for a UAB single-season record 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning first-team All-Conference USA honors. Running backs coach Deland McCullough said Howard acknowledged that he wasn’t physically strong enough for the Big Ten when he got to campus but that he has since added 70 pounds to his bench press. McCullough also raved about the newcomer’s versatility out of the backfield.
"Jordan’s got more wiggle than what you would think," he said. "He’s got some shiftiness to him. He’s got burst. He’s impressive. He’s an impressive player."
Redding moves up the depth chart after a freshman season that saw him carry the ball just 29 times for 118 yards and a touchdown.
McCullough praised the sophomore for his maturity, saying he has worked hard since the season ended, knowing that he needed to become a leader.
"(Devine) had a great offseason strength-wise, leadership-wise, just doing all the things that you want him to do," he said. "(He has) great change of direction, hands, burst. He can do everything you need him to do."
In addition to Howard and Redding, redshirt junior Andrew Wilson along with three redshirt freshmen – Ricky Brookins, Tommy Mister and Alex Rodriguez – will be competing for playing time.
While he feels good about the running backs on the roster, Wilson admits they won’t be able to completely replace a player as talented as Coleman.
"You do lose some home-run speed with Tevin," he said. "He had a chance, if there was a crease, he could take an 8-(yard gain) and get you 80. There might be a lot of 18-yard plays instead of 80- (yard) plays."