Just as Indiana’s running game seems to have shown some signs of life, the passing game seems to be going backward.
The Hoosiers rushed for 223 yards last week and passed for just 64. For the second straight week, the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback completed just six passes and finished with less than 70 yards passing. This comes a year after the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing yardage.
Obviously, that comes in large part because the Hoosiers have spent the year shuffling through quarterbacks because of injury in the first year of the post-Ben Chappell era, but IU coach Kevin Wilson said he thinks the passing game has been down across the board, especially at wide receiver.
“Our receiver play’s been very, very poor,” Wilson said. “Going back to Penn State with all the drops. We don’t work with any sense of speed and urgency out there. If you watch our receivers play, we play very fast on routes, but if there’s a run play, we jog off the ball. Our young players are battling, getting better, but we need better receiver play. It’s a collective deal. I don’t think the quarterbacks trust the line. I think the receivers don’t practice or play with the speed so that the quarterback knows where it’s gonna be. We’re just an offense and a passing game that’s completely out of sync. That’s real. How do we fix that? We keep practicing and staying positive.”
The quarterback not trusting the line sounds worse than what Wilson meant. The offensive line actually made some improvements on Saturday and didn’t do as poor a job of protection as they had the week before against Illinois when the Hoosiers surrendered five sacks. That had more to do with Wright-Baker returning from an ankle injury after two games on the bench.
“He hadn’t played in a while,” Wilson said. “He was coming off an injury. Playing against a good opponent. He just had to set his feet. Just gotta trust the protection a little bit. He was all over the place, timing was off. He hadn’t been under fire in a while. He’s playing a team that’s top five in the nation. Maybe made the opponent and the challenge a little bit bigger than it was. But you still gotta play within rhythm, within yourself. He was just out of wack Saturday.”
But the line and the wide receivers both bother him. The line includes two senior starters in left tackle Andrew McDonald and guard/tackle Justin Pagan as well as junior center Will Matte, who hasn’t missed a start in his career. The receiving corps, meanwhile, was expected to be the most talented position group on the squad with senior Damarlo Belcher returning after leading the conference in receptions last season and sophomores Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes backed by a strong group of freshmen.
“It’s all subjective talk, but I had been of the opinion that our receiver crowd and offensive line with three seniors would’ve been the groups that would’ve led us,” Wilson said. “Those were the groups that have been the two most inconsistent groups. … A couple of the groups that I thought were going to be good have been pretty disappointing.”
Said co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith: “I think they’re probably the most talented group on our team, and that’s probably what disappoints you a little bit is you want more production from those guys. You want more effort, you want more catches, less drops, when they have the opportunity. That’s not pinning anything on just the wideouts. We’ve got more problems than just the wideouts. When you look at it, it’s a pretty athletic group. It’s probably the most experienced group we have.”
Other notes from Tuesday’s press conference:
— Smith and Wilson both said they expected to continue to use sophomore wide receiver Kofi Hughes as a quarterback in a wildcat formation. Hughes, who was a quarterback at Cathedral, rushed seven times for 31 yards against Wisconsin on Saturday, mostly on runs when he took the snap.
“We’ll expand that, absolutely,” Smith said. “How much we see it Saturday, I don’t know. That depends on how the defense plays. How they match up, how they plays us. But we’ll definitely expand that because I think Kofi’s a good athlete, it’s good to get the ball in his hands.”
— Wilson said freshman defensive end Bobby Richardson, junior center Will Matte and senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher all have a chance to play in Saturday’s game at Iowa.
Richardson missed Saturday’s game with a concussion suffered in Wednesday’s practice. Wilson said he was close to playing Saturday and he did practice Monday. Belcher, who tweaked his knee and came out before halftime of Saturday’s game at Wisconsin, also practiced somewhat Monday. Matte did not practice Monday with a sprained knee, but Wilson said he hasn’t been ruled out.
Wilson said that redshirt sophomore quarterback Dusty Kiel remains out with a high ankle sprain. Senior safety Chris Adkins, Wilson said, won’t play because of a knee sprain. Senior safety Donnell Jones is also out with an ankle injury and senior safety Jarrell Drane is still out.
— Co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler was disappointed with the effort Saturday after believing the squad had made progress in previous weeks, especially since the second half of the North Texas game.
“I look at our season so far, we’ve made progress each and every week defensively until last week,” Ekeler said. “We took a huge step back. I’d say that in the last four weeks. I’d felt as though we’d been making progress. Last week, we just laid an egg and came out, guys played uninspired. They played undisciplined. It was like we were a little bit scared to be out there.”
Ekeler was asked if he was afraid some of the older players, especially the seniors, had checked out because of the 1-6 start. He said there have been instances when senior leaders have not been practicing as hard as need be, and he’s been trying to nip it in the bud.
“I told a lot of those guys, ‘Invite your family to the next game if you’re gonna play like that,'” Ekeler said. “‘Because that’s gonna be senior day for you.'”