Penn State’s last trip to Memorial Stadium ended in an overtime loss that kicked off the 0-5 start in 2020. That game also sparked the Hoosiers to a special season by their standards. This time around, Penn State will look to avoid the upset against a Hoosier team that is on a five-game skid in 2022.
We got in touch with Luke Norton from Crimson Quarry to talk about Indiana’s chances on Saturday and, since the calendar has turned to November, some basketball.
1. Indiana has struggled mightily since earning a trip to a Florida bowl in the shortened 2020 season. What have been the biggest issues with Tom Allen’s team?
Pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.
First, that 2020 season deserves some blunt hindsight. Many of those wins over Big Ten powers came when they were in turmoil. Just about every quarterback from Michigan, Michigan State and even Ohio State’s Justin Fields just loved to throw the ball right at Indiana’s secondary. There’s a reason why the Spartans and Wolverines had different starters the next season.
The Penn State win that I’m sure everyone reading this remembers? Some wild playmaking in the last few minutes from Michael Penix Jr. and a smart call to go for it on a 2-point conversion. Indiana was not going to win a war of attrition with Penn State and was smart enough to know that.
Aside from that, injuries piled up throughout 2021, the offensive line continued its ongoing regression, the playcalling was lackluster and Indiana started a walk-on quarterback and running back during rivalry week because of injuries.
Now most of those players are gone and Indiana is stuck with a far below average offensive line in the second or first most important conference to have one. The players Indiana currently has don’t really fit Walt Bell’s offensive system and there aren’t many current underclassmen who do. Yikes.
2. I’m admitting I haven’t watched every game, but I have seen some IU football this season. In games against Rutgers and Michigan specifically, IU got off to nice starts, especially offensively. What has slowed the attack in the second half of some of these games?
This also happened last year, with then-offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan’s scripted drives resulting in ~some~ success for the Hoosiers. Indiana can only run so many plays with the offensive line play being what it is, and once those run out and the defense catches on the wheels fall off.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a fix for that. That’s just the situation Indiana has found itself in.
3. One thing Tom Allen has done in his tenure is come up with a plan to slow down other offenses and keep games close. What can you tell us about IU’s defense and its personnel?
Indiana’s defense has very much regressed this year. Most of its past success was honestly because former defensive coordinator Kane Wommack came up through that system and was a wizard when it came to playcalls. He threw the kitchen sink at Justin Fields, which resulted in arguably Fields’ worst performance at the college level.
Allen is a very good defensive coach. His scheme prioritizes turnovers with the pass rush being meant to force quarterbacks into bad decisions rather than bring them down (2020). Indiana has been lacking in the turnover department since last season though, which has resulted in the defense underperforming.
When it comes to personnel, Indiana is… interesting. The secondary was seen as a strength going into the season, full of experience. Now? Opponents are throwing the deep ball and picking up chunk plays at will. The Hoosiers have been less creative with the secondary and I don’t think the players back there are being put in a position that maximizes their talents. The only real (healthy) x-factor is freshman Dasan McCullough, a do-everything kind of guy. He’s been put in coverage and is really the only defender with enough bend to bring down a quarterback in the pass rush.
4. Any keys that you’ll be looking closely at or predictions for Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium?
Well, if I were looking at this from the Penn State perspective, I’d keep in mind that Indiana is without its top wide receiver in Cam Camper and likely its best defender in linebacker Cam Jones. Penn State always has an effective defense, so the Nittany Lions should have no issue pressuring the quarterback.
Speaking of which! Tom Allen has hinted very strongly that he’s making a change at quarterback. Nothing definite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Connor Bazelak isn’t QB1 on Saturday. Does this change anything? Not really. If Indiana starts Jack Tuttle, he’s only slightly more mobile than Bazelak. If Indiana starts someone like Dexter Williams or Brendan Sorsby? Well, they can both run, but lack any experience. It won’t move the needle.
Prediction? I think Indiana finds a way to score, but not much. I think Penn State takes this one 28-7.
5. Basketball season opens on Monday night against Morehead State. Big Ten champs this year?
Honest take? I like Indiana’s chances, but them being favored to win the Big Ten says much more about the talent level across the conference than Indiana itself. They have every reason to win it, but I would not be surprised if someone else does. They should be in the top ¼ though!
We thank Luke for his candor. You can read more about Indiana football and basketball over at The Crimson Quarry.