Hoosiers, Lions hopeful for healthy backfields on Saturday #iufb

Between trips to the locker room, Jordan Howard watched most of last Saturday’s game from the sideline. At Penn State, top running backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley did the same.

Injuries have shifted the focus to both the IU and Penn State backfields entering this week’s game at Beaver Stadium. With the status of each team’s starting rushers unclear, the Hoosiers and Nittany Lions could each be looking for help on Saturday in State College.

Although Howard dressed for IU’s first practice of the week on Tuesday, his ankle injury could limit him or keep him sidelined altogether this weekend. It’s the same case for Lynch and Barkley, who each suffered injuries during the first half of Penn State’s win over San Diego State two weeks ago. Neither Nittany Lion is listed on this week’s depth chart, but coach James Franklin told reporters he’s hopeful they’ll be available.

Meanwhile, in Bloomington, Franklin’s counterpart is hoping the same about his top running back.

“It’s called college football,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “You need to read Penn State’s articles. Everyone’s got people nicked up. That’s why we have 85 scholarships and 120 on the team. We practice those guys hard. Next guy is going to have to come in and play. It can be a loss, but all it is is an opportunity. We’ve shown guys can step up.”

In the Hoosiers’ case, Devine Redding could be due for a higher workload for the second straight week. But even if Redding is the guy, he won’t be asked to do it alone. Walk-ons Alex Rodriguez and Andrew Wilson, along with freshman Mike Majette each stand in line to see action, given the possible limitations of Howard and Ricky Brookins, who was also hurt against Ohio State.

Andrew Wilson appeared in the backfield briefly last Saturday, when the Hoosiers would have been held under 100 yards rushing if not for backup quarterback Zander Diamont’s 79-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers finished with 176 rushing yards against the Buckeyes, who traded one-on-one coverage on the outside for a stacked box against Diamont and Redding.

“We still have four guys in the stable, and we’ll mix it up and go,” Wilson said. “We’re not going to ride one guy out. You’ve got to play two or three the way we play. We had 91 snaps. That means you’ve got to play a lot of guys. Next guy is going to come and play.”

That’s especially important against Penn State, which is relying on defense to stay competitive. To their credit, the Lions have moved the ball when Lynch and Barkley have been healthy. Barkley is No. 4 in the country with 8.9 yards per carry and ranks fourth in the league with 93.2 yards per game. There is potential with Penn State’s passing game, too, but it hasn’t been realized yet due to a flimsy offensive line and a few too many games played in poor weather.

Defensively, the Lions are allowing only 284 total yards through their first five games, including 124.6 on the ground and only 3.2 yards per carry. And while its offensive line has given up a league-worst 15 sacks, Penn State’s defense is third in the nation with 21 sacks.

“They’re just awesome up front,” Wilson said.

So it will be a challenge for IU’s stable of backs, no matter who’s taking the handoffs.

Redding competed with Howard for the starting job during the spring and summer, and received the bulk of the first-team work when an elbow injury forced Howard to miss the final few weeks of spring practice. The sophomore Redding received praise for taking leadership of the running back room this spring, and has helped IU achieve some balance in its running game as a complement to Howard.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, is a runner built in the mold of Howard, although Rodriguez lacks the same size and burst as Howard. Wilson likes that the 5-foot-10, 218-pound redshirt freshman has produced in practice as a scout team member facing the starting defense.

“We have confidence in Alex Rodriguez,” Wilson said. “You can ask Alex. He’s mad he doesn’t have a scholarship and he’s not the starter. He’s pretty good. He thinks he is. He’ll play well, so will Andrew Wilson. We’ll keep moving.”

One of IU’s more intriguing options is Majette, a true freshman athlete who practiced as a slot receiver for most, if not all of preseason practice. Recently, he and former UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins began transitioning to a hybrid running back role in the IU backfield during recent weeks.

Majette has been visible as a kicker returner during IU’s first five games, but could also show up in the Indiana backfield soon.

“I’m excited about him,” running backs coach Deland McCullough said. “I recruited him, so he feels right at home. We keep some guys in our back pocket who are developing and who can come on when the time warrants. In the meantime, Marqui and Mike Majette continue to develop in the background.”

Depending on who is available by Saturday, one or both of them could jump into the foreground.

One comment

  1. What’s that supposed to mean? IU would have been held under one hundred yards rushing if not for the leading rusher who got most of his yards on a single play. That describes about 20% of all football games.

Comments are closed.