Indiana football head coach Tom Allen and his staff have not been shy in deeming the 2021 football season a disappointment, and one area in which last season’s team seemed to struggle the most was on the offensive line.
The advanced statistics paint a similar picture. According to Football Outsiders, Indiana’s offensive line finished 119th in the nation in Line Yards per Carry and 91st nationally in Sack Rate, putting the team near the bottom of the list in statistics related to both pass and run blocking.
With the 2022 season kickoff against Illinois just two weeks away, Allen and offensive line coach Darren Hiller have both emphasized the importance of improving in the trenches as the program looks to go back to the winning ways it found in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
As fall camp winds to a close, Hiller said that he has seen serious improvement in the group compared to where it was a season ago, particularly in its consistency.
“Playing offensive line is a position that you have to embrace the boredom of consistency, and it’s repetitive, and it’s doing things over and over and over and embracing that,” Hiller said. “From a year ago to now, we’ve made a lot of strides in that regard, and kids are working hard. It’s been a great camp.”
While the Hoosiers had issues in both facets of offensive line play, the results of the team’s struggles were most apparent in pass blocking and quarterback health.
Indiana’s quarterbacks took a beating last season, with the team starting four different players at the position across 12 games due to injuries. In total, IU’s signal callers were sacked 29 times for a loss of 169 yards, an average of 2.42 sacks allowed per game being tied for the 81st-best rate in the nation.
With sacks and quarterback hurries being an issue for the Hoosiers all throughout 2021, the IU offense will face its first test of the season in its first game of the season, as Illinois finished fourth in the Big Ten and tied for 49th in the nation with 30 sacks in 2021.
Allen has made pass protection a point of emphasis all offseason long in the leadup to week one, and said Friday that both the offensive linemen and running backs have gotten better at taking care of the quarterback during camp.
“I think pass protection has been a positive growth, it’s something we’ve really focused on and tried to stress in that area,” Allen said. “And I think that’s something we’ve seen through being able to run creases for our backs in space to be able to get to the same levels.”
While keeping the quarterback on the field is one important aspect of pass protection, another is giving him enough time to make a throw down the field. Allen stressed that importance as the team looks to improve on its 4.1 yards per play average from last season, the fifth-worst rate in FBS.
“We’ve gotta get to the second level blocks and be able to cut people out, That’s been a big part of the system,” Allen said. “And to create those more explosive plays for us. Not having to drive the ball on those 10-11-12-13-play drives to be able to score points. To get some of those explosive chunk plays O-Line has been a big part of that.”
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