BLOOMINGTON — In the never-ending football battle between offense and defense, Mike DeBord won’t concede.
But he will vary.
Indiana’s quest for football offensive speed means fast until it doesn’t. It means looking ready to go without actually pulling the trigger. It’s about altering the tempo to mess with the defense to put the Hoosiers in the best possible position to score.
As offensive coordinator, DeBord’s job is to make it work.
So when the Hoosiers are hurrying, how fast will they snap the ball?
“As fast as we can go” DeBord says. “Within 10 seconds if we can.
“At times we’re going to snap it that fast. At times we’ll act like we’re doing it, but we’re not. It’s all part of the process.”
Former coach Kevin Will pushed a fast pace, which means the veteran players are used to it, especially quarterback Richard Lagow, last year’s starter.
But this is a new system with new terminology and all new offensive coaches along with a new head coach (Tom Allen), so it’s up to everybody to get in sync.
“A lot of that is coaching,” DeBord says. “All of our coaches have done a great job of pushing their position guys to go fast. You can hear Coach (Darren) Hiller pushing the offensive line. You can hear Coach (Mike) Hart pushing the running backs.
“We push the system. It’s been a process. Our players like that, going fast, slowing down, going fast again. It keeps the defense off balance.”
Two years ago, IU led the Big Ten in scoring at 36.5 points. Last season, it was ninth at 25.8 points.
DeBord was hired to jump start the attack again.
“It starts with protecting the ball,” he says. “Last year this group moved the ball, but they didn’t protect the ball and didn’t score as many points.”
During one spring scrimmage the offensive had zero turnovers.
“We had no balls on the ground,” DeBord says. “Nothing. That’s the way you have to play.”
The offense has three main keys. DeBord calls it PET, which is short for Protect, Explosive and Tempo.
“That was something Coach Allen and I talked about before I took the job, what he wanted out of our offense.
“The P stands for protect the ball. Sometimes people think that’s the person who has the ball, but it’s also about the offensive line. Not letting their guy make a tackle or strip the ball.
“The E stands for explosive. We want to be an explosive offense. That’s something we’ve worked on from Day 1.
“The last part is Tempo. We want to go fast, but also change the tempo.”
The biggest burden falls on the quarterback. While no starting job is guaranteed, Lagow has the edge given he is, by far, the most experienced. He says he’s improved in decision-making, in “utilizing my check-downs, knowing when to get rid of the ball and when to get out of the pocket.
“It’s fully committing to the new offense. That’s allowed me to be more comfortable with it.”
Better accuracy and fewer turnovers would help. Lagow completed 57.8 percent of his passes last season, about eight percent below what IU coaches would like. He threw 17 interceptions in 13 games, and coaches would like to get that into the single digits.
“Completion percentage has never been a determining factor in wining and losing,” quarterback coach Nike Sheridan says, “but certainly we want to be efficient. The more efficient you are, the more explosive play opportunities you have.
“A solid number is 65 percent. If you have schemes with a lot of easy, high-percentage throws, you should be able to get there. Now, if you throw the ball down the field all the time, your percentage might not be as high.
“The game and the defense dictates that. Some fundamentals and techniques lead to more accurate passing. When we get them, we try to get their feet and eyes to work together. Then there is the progression of the plays and how that mirrors up with their feet and eyes, and the timing of the drops. If they do that, they throw accurately.
“But if you can’t hit the first open receiver in your progression, it’s hard to be successful.”
Offensive success is critical if IU is to get its first winning season since 2007.
“As an offense we feel comfortable and confident,” Lagow says, “but we still have a lot to put in. We’ll continue to install and stay of top of that. The sky is the limit for the offense.
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