It’s been a strange first four weeks for the Indiana Hoosiers under first-year head coach Tom Allen. The team opened with a closer-than-it-looks loss to Ohio State before taking its show on the road and defeating Virginia in a game that looks much more impressive after the Cavaliers shocked Boise State last Saturday. Hurricane Irma wiped out a tune-up game with Florida International, but the Hoosiers got back into rhythm with a win over Georgia Southern in Week 4.
Penn State’s season has taken the more traditional route with three non-conference home games leading up to the conference opener at Iowa. That dramatic road win sure was exhilarating, but I’m sure James Franklin would love for his squad to put the game away a little earlier this week.
Indiana will have other plans, though. This is one team that is sick of the media patting it on the back for coming close to pulling a big upset. Last year, the Hoosiers had no trouble slowing down Saquon Barkley and hanging with Penn State until the game’s final stages. Will the rematch at Beaver Stadium be any different? To get a better idea, we talked to Ben Raphel of SB Nation’s Indiana blog, The Crimson Quarry. Thanks to Ben for being a good sport and answering some of our questions!
Black Shoe Diaries: After a spectacular 149-yard performance in the season opener against Ohio State, wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. caught only seven passes in the next two games combined. Is offensive coordinator Mike DeBord looking to target him more often going forward?
The Crimson Quarry: Cobbs has been quiet the past couple games, but that may have been due to game plans. Against Virginia, Richard Lagow had a shaky start and was replaced by Peyton Ramsey, and Ramsey's dual-threat capability meant the Hoosiers didn't need to rely on Cobbs to make as many big plays. And against Georgia Southern last weekend, the run game took over for the Hoosiers. I think Cobbs will still get targets, but I just don't think he was needed as much the past two games. Look for tight end Ian Thomas to be a red-zone threat in the passing game as well.
BSD: Senior quarterback Richard Lagow looked pretty good in the Ohio State game, but he's since yielded a lot of playing time to freshman Peyton Ramsey. Will we see multiple quarterbacks take the field on Saturday? Who is the best bet to be the starter for the rest of the season?
TCQ: I think Lagow still has the edge, as he has a rocket for an arm and can keep the Hoosiers in games if the passing offense is working. In addition, he played mistake-free against Georgia Southern last weekend. However, Ramsey is a great change-of-pace quarterback, as he has more speed than Lagow when running the ball. If the offensive line is not having a great game, like what happened against UVA, then Ramsey might be the better play at quarterback for the Hoosiers, as he's less of a pocket presence than Lagow.
BSD: The Indiana offense looks to have a bright future as another freshman, tailback Morgan Ellison, earned a major role with his 186-yard game against Georgia Southern. Will Ellison be the bell cow going forward? What sets him apart from Indiana's other backs?
TCQ: Ellison had a tremendous performance last weekend. What set him apart was his ability to get a consistent run game going, and because IU's offensive line had its best performance of the season as well. At 6’1” and 225 pounds, Ellison has the build to be a workhorse back. In addition, like Jordan Howard two years ago, Ellison has the ability to pick up what offensive coordinator Mike DeBord calls "yards after contact," so he's able to get closer to the first down even after being tackled.
BSD: Last year, Tom Allen's defense averaged one interception per game, but in 2017 the unit has zero picks through three games. Is this due to a decrease in performance or just based on the Hoosiers playing against ground-based attacks?
TCQ: Defensive backs are still a strong unit for the Hoosiers, but right now there have been some injuries to the secondary, including A'Shon Riggins, Marcelino Ball, and Rashard Fant (all of whom are up in the air for Saturday). As for interceptions, JT Barrett failed to really get anything going for Ohio State, Kurt Benkert was limited to shorter passes for UVA, and GSU had more of a focus on the run game. Hopefully, the front seven is able to get pressure to Trace McSorley, and perhaps IU will get its first interception of the year on Saturday.
BSD: Can Tegray Scales possibly top his incredible 2016 campaign? Will he lead Indiana in both sacks and tackles again, or will the defensive production be spread around more evenly this year?
TCQ: Scales still leads the Hoosiers in tackles with 26 after three games. He's still going to be the leader of this defense. However, Scales' fellow linebacker Chris Covington should not be discounted either — The former backup QB is having a great start to the year. In the secondary, Chase Dutra and Jonathan Crawford are names to watch out for, and up front, Nate Hoff is the guy to be mindful of on the defensive line.
BSD: The Hoosiers are 17-point underdogs on Saturday. How do you see the game going for Indiana?
TCQ: That line sounds about right. Give me the Nittany Lions to win, 38-20, although I expect this to be a tight game through about the third quarter until Penn State pulls away.
Unless Saquon Barkley takes the week off, that is.
Thanks again to Ben for taking some time to help with our game coverage! Remember to check out The Crimson Quarry all year round for in-depth coverage of Indiana athletics.