Post-Ball State: Four things we learned

It’s Labor Day weekend, which means there will be no hardcopy edition of The Herald-Times on Monday. But here’s an online-only version of our weekly “Four Things We Learned” feature coming out of the Ball State win.

  1. IU’s coaches trust Penix.

Ball State’s box-cramming versus the Hoosiers’ run may have tipped the balance a bit, but it was clear Saturday that IU’s coaches aren’t going to be shy about letting Penix throw it. That became abundantly clear when the Hoosiers got the ball at their own 10, with a little over a minute left in the first half, and IU coach Tom Allen and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer let the redshirt freshman pass on the first play.

IU was about to get the ball to start the third quarter, but they didn’t second-guess their pursuit of points. They believed Penix could make it happen, even after he had thrown two picks. That’s important. And they not only let him throw it — he was a running threat, as well. His team-high 67 rushing yards should put aside any worries about the health of his previously torn ACL.

Now it’s a question of how defenses respond. Will the 40 passes Penix launched against Ball State move a defender or two out of the box in coming weeks? If they don’t clear out, DeBoer and Allen don’t appear worried about Penix shouldering the burden.

2. The defense has to get better.

Allen said he had a discussion with Ball State coach Mike Neu pregame about the difficult balance of getting a team ready in an era when conditioning is year-round but hitting isn’t as prominent a part of preseason camps.

Those difficulties were on full display Saturday, especially for the Hoosiers. They missed more than a few tackles, failing to wrap up. A defensive-minded coach like Allen isn’t going to stand for that. He made as much clear postgame.

The question is whether this is just opening-game rust or whether poor tackling will become a persistent issue. IU has plenty of speed and athleticism on defense, particularly in its linebacking and secondary positions, but can they consistently get themselves in position to make a play — and then make it?

Free yards — whether it’s via missed tackles or penalties — won’t help the Hoosiers achieve better than a 5-7 season.

3. The kickers can kick.

Aside from a couple of kickoffs out of bounds, the Hoosiers’ specialists were ready to play Saturday.

Logan Justus may have been the MVP of the contest with a career-high 4-of-4 effort (tying the program record), including new career-highs in distance at 48, 49, and 50 yards. The former walk-on from McCordsville had some preseason competition from redshirt freshman Charles Campbell, but his seemingly expanded range should keep him solidly in the No. 1 kicking role.

Senior punter Haydon Whitehead also had a stellar performance. He booted the ball an average of 51.7 yards on his three boots, including one 63-yarder. That’s encouraging for a player who averaged about 40 yards per punt in his previous two seasons.

4. It’s still early.

Most important of all, it’s too early to get overly worked up about what did or didn’t happen against Ball State. Openers are often hard to measure, especially for a young team like IU.

At least the Hoosiers didn’t suffer a stinging defeat like Purdue (versus Nevada) or Tennessee (against Georgia Southern). Simply put, Penix got any possible first-game anxieties out of the way, tackling is something that can be corrected, and IU is 1-0.

After next weekend, the Hoosiers should be 2-0, but how they perform against Eastern Illinois should be instructive. Can Penix limit mistakes? Can the Hoosiers establish the run early? Can the defense avoid penalties and secure tackles?

We shall see.

47 comments

  1. Everyone’s been pretty upset about the ugly performance Saturday and rightfully so, but I was wondering about something. What would the conversation have been, if 4 passes had gone differently? One passes was a typical new QB mistake which hopefully those type of passes MP will get out of his system soon. The second one was not a good throw, but the receiver also fell down, those things happen. The third and fourth passes were probable touchdowns dropped by two experienced receivers.

    Giving the Mulligan for the new QB mistake, if one of the 3 other passes has a better outcome, we’re not quite so upset. If a 2 of those 3 passes works out, there would still be grumbling, but without much steam. If all 3 of those other passes has a positive outcome, the only talk would be about the new QB who broke Antwaan Randle El’s first start passing yardage record. Funny how just a few plays could have changed the conversation dramatically despite all the other issues in this game.

    1. His circular waving of his arms as if swimming in air after a touchdown play was sort of weird…but other than this Tom Allen(ish)/Tom Crean(ish) display of not acting like you’ve been there before, he did very well for a first outing.

      I do have concerns about his holding up to the Goliaths of the BigTen soon to come. I’m not sure if he has the physical attributes to play beyond college but that’s not our concern…Our concern is keeping him healthy in one of the toughest college football divisions in the nation. Hope he gets through it without serious injury. He’s just not of very thick build. Worry about his run game against the sort of explosive hitters of OSU, Michigan, Penn State, etc. Guess we’ll find out soon enough…but something tells me we’re going to see some of Tuttle worked into the equation.

          1. Added height adding overall weight making him listed as “bigger?” Maybe so. But it’s the bone structure of Penix that’s different. Smallest wrists I’ve ever seen on a football player…and he still appears very thin in the legs. He’s certainly a little beefier in the arms this season but I don’t view him as solidly built as your aforementioned. Can’t change bone structure(e.g. thin wrists, thin ankles, small knees).
            Hope our line can keep him safe…and he’s not overly pounded by the staff running the ball simply because he’s athletic enough to do so. My opinion is that he won’t hold up against teams with far more massive players and explosive hitters than BSU.

  2. In my view Penix exceeded expectations most notably by his near 10 yd. per rush attempt. His arm was prominently featured and fans already had mistakes baked in the cake for his starting debut. He’ll be fine if he stays healthy. I expect opposing D in the future won’t value stopping the ground game with vigor after watching the tape of this game. DeBoer has to find a way to use Ellis both for positive playmaking and as an offensive decoy many possessions each game. What a find.

  3. Yes 3 of 4 plays working like they should would have made a huge difference in the offense. Scott showed in his second TD run that he and the OL were starting to get things going. Penix looks to be one of those players that can avoid big hits with just a slight move. He showed that one play where the DE had him lined up for a sack but only got a small piece of Penix when he made a side step to avoid the rush.

    Early games are to judge because you never know how good teams will be. We may have a good season and look back to see BSU was far better than people thought they would be.

  4. Worst thing Penix could think is he can slip out of B10 tackles same as he did with BSU. He needs to get rid of the ball faster and focus on protecting himself instead of picking up yards or counting on beating defenses to the sidelines.

  5. Maybe Penix has enough overall experience to have determined what he could get away with against this defense. I’m guessing when the B1G shows up he will adjust his timing accordingly.

  6. I’m not worried about Penix at all! He’s going to be outstanding if he stays healthy. Last year’s knee injury taught him how to avoid certain situations better than anything his coaches could tell him.

    My concerns are the type of mistakes IU’s players made Saturday. The mental mistakes, like kicking a ball out of bounds on kickoffs twice, PF and ULC penalties committed by a veteran defensive player, etc. Then their are the mistakes/failures resulting from terrible technique. Repeated failures to tackle (wrap up), failing to shed blocks, dropping perfect passes or INTs, dropping too far back in zone pass defense and totally failing to cover a TE on 3rd or 4th and long, etc. Both types of mistakes speak to coaching deficiencies. What are you teaching your players during the weeks of practice before the first game? If the fundamentals are not there to start the season, it’s going to be very hard to install them once the season starts. It’s like trying to build a house on an incomplete foundation.

    The coaches must do a better job of teaching solid fundamentals and building mental toughness and discipline before the first game of the season.

    1. Po-there is only one first game of the season. IU won 34-24! Now “flush” it! Game 2 is the focus! Improve! Lots of room for that!

  7. I’ll be interested in seeing how the offense performs against
    OSU in week three. Hoosier Clarion, I suspect OSU will not deemphasize stopping the run to concentrate on the IU passing game. They won’t have to.
    OSU’s front four has the capability to dominate and control the LOS to shut down IU’s running game, as well as pressure/collapse the pocket and not allow Penix sufficient time to find a receiver, or permit receivers from getting separation. The same could be said for UM, PSU, and MSU’s defenses. Other teams may have to chose their poison on which they will concentrate on stopping, but these four teams won’t.

    1. SOSD,
      I’m not saying IU will be able to come even close to beating OSU, but let’s not underestimate the value of QB with not only a strong accurate arm, but a quick release. It may be ancient history, but I won’t forget one of the most dominant defensive lines, not to mention defenses, I have ever seen at any level being made to look mortal. The lone blemish to the ’85 Chicago Bears came at the hands of a savvy QB with a hair trigger release. Not comparing MP and the IUFB receivers to the Marino Dolphins of that year, but with good timing and creative play calling, interesting things can happen. Without Marino’s quick release, no way the Dolphins line could have held long enough, no one else could that year.

      1. Fencik was smart as a whip and one hell of a hitter…but the speed of those Dolphin receivers were difficult for the fastest d-backs/safeties.

        Penix is as close to Marino …as Oladipo to Jordan. This stuff just gets sillier and sillier. Are you guys inhaling glue? We just defeated BSU….They are from Muncie, Indiana. Visit Muncie ….You’ll love it. Ball Jars(hence the name “BALL” State)….? Maybe pickle this victory and keep it on the pantry shelf for a rainy OSU day?
        There’s only one good thing that ever happened in the history of Ball State athletics: Rick Majerus.

  8. Maybe we should consider playing a 3-4 on defense, at least a 4-3. I’m serious, why do we have to be wedded to this 4-2-5 formation? If we’re not going to get more pressure on the QB, we may be better off having guys in position to make tackles and blitz. I know we had a few sacks and TFL, but the Ball State QB had a pretty good day.

    As for the offense, it can be outstanding. My only concern was we couldn’t run the ball, but last year, Stevie Scott ran against everyone, including Ohio State, Penn State, etc. What happened? We do have two starters back on the OL and quite a few other guys who saw significant playing time last season.

    Also, does Mike Penix need to run so much? Sure it’s good that he rushed for almost 70 yards, but wouldn’t it be better to scramble to buy time and find a receiver downfield? Like a lot of others on here, I think we have to be concerned about injury. I wonder if the coaches are talking about that, or are just going to let him improvise.

    After last year, I decided to not go all in on the preseason optimism, even though I was checking every day for updates. Frankly, I was surprised by how out of position the D was Saturday. That said, Ball State to me is a good football team with a good coach. Everyone says, “Oh, it’s Ball State.” I think they can win the MAC this year.

  9. I’ll be relieved if BSU wins the MAC this year, but I doubt they will.

    As for what happened to IU’s running game, two of last year’s O-linemen are now on NFL rosters. And their replacements are not as experienced or as good yet.

    OSU is loaded with talent once again. And playing them in the third game is not good. We need them after they’ve been “softened up” by some of the other powers in the BIG. Our special teams are going to have to play a phenomenal game in order for field position to work in our favor. OSU would give a couple of the weakest NFL teams trouble this season.

    1. I think we’ll need to put up 45 points a game to beat any of the Big Four in the Big Ten East. With some better luck, we could have done that Saturday. It would be sort of like a return to the Kevin Wilson era. I’ll take a 45-44 win in any game. Based on the first week of Big Ten action, what is most concerning to me is Michigan State’s defense.

      1. While CKW coached some high flying offenses they were trending in the wrong direction. Having an NFL quarterback certainly made a difference with Sudfield. Wilson’s last team was all about Coach Allen’s defense.

          1. Exactly wrong.

            Lynch had “exactly” three BigTen wins in his three last seasons(one 1-7 whopper per year). How was it all “trending” when Wilson came to town? A program comatose doesn’t trend.

            Also, Wilson hired Allen. We have the next Bear Bryant because Wilson put him here. If it all turns out to be trending hunky-dory, he’s a gift courtesy of Kevin Wilson.

  10. Over 2 years later and there’s still Tom Crean references, on an IU football story at that? Wow…..

    I’m with the crowd that emphasizes the positives. As for the biggest negative, Tom Allen stood up and right off the bat said the tackling was horrible, and it will get fixed. And that Ball won’t make the same stupid personal foul mistake again. The lack of preseason hitting was undoubtedly a major contributor there. But look at all of the positives! FINALLY, a mobile IU quarterback who can extend the defense! A 52 yards in the air frozen rope for a TD! This fact from a redshirt Freshman coming off a torn ACL. A battering ram in Stevie Scott who’s clutch inside the red zone. Field goals of 48, 49, and 52 yards. A take away for the 19th consecutive game, the longest such streak in the country.

    But to heck with that crap! Let’s focus on the same ol’ same ol’ IU junky football, despite a W. Yes, it was sloppy. It was also only the first game, against an okay opponent. Would you rather be in PU’s or UTenn’s shoes right now? I’ll take the W and the Big10 special teams and Freshman players of the week!

  11. I guarentee the fans of Alabama or Clemson are not talking about how great their teams are. They’re discussing which player or unit is going to let them down and keep their team from a national championship. Penix, our field goal kicker, punter and tight end were excellent. Our offensive and defensive lines were not. And our team was not as fundamentally sound as the opponent yet again. Perhaps IU’s biggest problem is the team plays to the level of expectations of the fans?

  12. Archie Miller may never “get there”….but, at least, he doesn’t sell things as bigger accomplishments than they are. I don’t mind excitement…Let the fans dictate and be the barometer of such things. There’s a point when the silly giddiness, arm flailing or spastic outbursts of rambunctious hopping and clapping over one or two plays against nobody teams makes us appear as juvenile beginners.
    The Crean reference was only because I thought we were done with such overkill.
    Take down OSU and you can spin like a washing machine for an hour….

  13. Talking spinning (heads) that is. The smartest coach in college football is South Carolina head coach. Him and whoever negotiated his contracts past and present has one of the best buyouts if he is ever fired. I guess it takes the pressure off to win. That would be Will Muschamp.

  14. H4H, nothing wrong with players showing excitement about big plays. They watch a lot of video from youtube and have different approaches than you and I had growing up. They are trying to build up the morale of the team and players whether we like it or what they do or not.

    There are a number of good things to take from the BSU game – a real returner stepped up and looked good returning kicks, Whop gained 13 yards on a punt return, our young QB looked very good with a few mistakes – I don’t worry about his health, our TE looks like he has really improved and will create problems for defenses plus the seam pass is back in our offense, our DL developed a pass rush as the game wore on against an experience OL, our STs showed signs of being special this year, our goal line offense was very effective this game, and the OL did a good job pass protecting. There are concerns from the game but many them can be fixed.
    I am looking forward to how much improvement we will see in the coming weeks. I hope people flush the history of IUFB and just focus on this team.

  15. You da man….I’m just sort of old school. I love the last scene of ‘The Natural’….Hobbs crushing the winning blow high into the stadium lights, the sparks from the exploding bulbs sprinkling down from the heavens, the crowd going absolutely crazy while Roy majestically trots around the bases with no show of emotion. Cue the music….Chills up my spine. All you gotta do is act naturally.

    But, hey, you’re right. They’re kids. They are real deal. Roy Hobbs is fantasy.

    Sorry I can’t give more football examples …but I do remember an NCAA championship game when Alford hit a deep corner 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer and headed for the locker room with no more emotion than splashing a free throw. There’s something cool about acting like you’ve something spectacular so often that you can do it in your sleep. Or maybe you’ve already envisioned yourself doing this great play or great thing…and the actual moment it happens you’ve already been there?
    Different times, I suppose. Now everybody is their own Facebook/Youtube celebrity simply by getting recruited(even if it’s to Bloomignton to play football for one of the historically worst programs ever known to the game).

    But just remember …Change is inevitable. One day it will come. All you gotta do is act naturally

  16. I would be thrilled if the offense could put up 45 points against OSU, PSU, UM and MSU. That would be quite an accomplishment and make DeBoer a highly desired OC, not just at the college level, but the NFL. I don’t believe IU has the resources to pay an OC a seven figure salary comparable to Allen’s.

    We will learn how good an offensive coordinator DeBoer is in the next four weeks when they face OSU and MSU. I’m sure those teams have weaknesses that can be exploited, but does IU have the talent to exploit those weaknesses? The front seven of both those teams are dominant. Their front four alone has the ability to collapse a pocket and pressure a QB without having to resort to a great deal of blitzing. I don’t know if IU’s OL alone is capable of nullifying their pass rush. If IU has to use a TE and a RB to allow Penix time to throw that means removing 2 potential weapons from the offense.

    We’ll learn the answers shortly when we play OSU in 11 days.

  17. “I would be thrilled if IU could put up 45 points against OSU, PSU, UM and MSU.” No OFFENSE, but those who think or write such statements have big imaginations. IU scores 34 against Ball State using 4 field goals to get there. How many times has IU scored 45? Then, just make up a possible story line. Then, tell what is obvious and obviously anyone already knows.

    1. What does the past have to do with the present: new OC, new QB, a lot of new players, new DC, etc.? “Flush” it is the new word for this season!

  18. IUNYC is wishful thinking that IU will be able to score 45 pts/game against the top four east conference teams. Would everybody be happy if that happened? Of course. Is it realistic? No, but that’s what’s great about dreaming, it doesn’t cost any more to dream big.

    IU scoring 45 against any of these teams would require everything to fall into place (similar to the 2001 game against UW when IU scored 63) like it did for Iowa in 2017, and Purdue last year against OSU. It’s not impossible, just highly unlikely.

    If the IU defense can manage to keep IU within one score of these teams where the offense has the ball and could win the game on a final drive, that would be more of a possibility of pulling off an upset.

  19. Are we as fan to one side by saying oh this was the first game and Indiana will improve…..Well every other team that had it’s first game will also improve barring injuries to certain players. What we saw against a MAC team was our inability to stop a Division II running back and any other running back on Ball State team. A quarterback that basically had plenty of time to make all kinds of throws from the pocket….the Indiana defensive backs would have been in deep trouble if the Ball State receivers had break away speed. This defense still has the same problems it had from the prior season…poor tackling and the inability to cover wide receivers. Andre Brown Jr looks passive about tackling or attempting to tackle anybody other than a wide receiver (do not look for him to tackle a tight end or running back). Yeah we can look at the positive out of the Ball State game, there where many….as we all know to get to 6 wins or better the coaching staff must correct the teams negatives (poor tackling, bad penalties, etc). Indiana has roughly three easy exhibition games (Ball State, Eastern Illinois and UCON) to get ready for the Big 10 schedule. After watching the Ball State game it will be very hard to get three more victories. Every other Big 10 team will make improvements after their first game jitters.

    1. So, he is a ‘Division II running back’ because, at one time, he played DII. That make all the other running backs ‘high school running backs’ because they all, at one time, played high school ball.

      Sheesh..

    2. IU79-does it make you feel good to insult a 20 year old college kid with the “Division II” label? That is cheap! Also it is totally stupid. It has been The Championship Division for years now and one member, GA St, just beat U TN at Knoxville. By the way Ball St is not in that Division, they play in the MAC, the same Division as OSU, AL etc.

      1. 18 year old’s got drafted to be slaughtered in Vietnam. Life over.
        Current warmongers avoided such fate by having rich daddies and toe bunions.
        It’s so crushing to be 20 years young, playing a game and insulted on a tiny blog 10 people regularly comment. Glad we have heroes protecting them from getting cursed out in a locker room.

      2. I believe he did play actual DII ball before coaches realized he had DI talent so he transferred. Happens more often than many realize. Kids are not always physically mature at 18 years of age.

        Imagine that.

  20. NO, I am not criticizing the young man I am very happy for him…..A lot of TALENT young man had to take different routes to the college ranks and the NFL (ie Wlater Payton, Jerry Rice, etc)…..All I am saying is that Indiana defense had a hard time tackling any running back whether division I or from the division II. An most of you guys are very quick to point out when Indiana University does not have a BIG 10 type player…Does it make you feel CHEAP??? It the same as saying that our offensive line and defensive line got pushed around by a MAC conference…..should Indiana University football be in the MAC conference or playing Div II school more regular.

    1. Neither Indiana nor any other Division I team plays ANY Division II teams.

      Ever.

      Once more…Division I football teams DO NOT play Division II teams. Ever. Neither do Division I basketball teams except in exhibition games.

      This isn’t hard.

      1. Chet, true statement. Although one could argue that IUFB has served as a Div II opponent for most of the B10 Teams.

  21. One reason IU won’t score 45 points against any of the Big Ten East’s power teams is because we won’t get the calls. Our offensive players will be held, mugged, and interfered with through all those games and the refs won’t throw the flags. The refs’ are humans, who psychologically identify the superior team before kickoff. They’re predisposed to give those teams the benefit of the doubt, and their calls will therefor favor the teams they perceive are supposed to win. Anybody remember how the refs screwed IU in last year’s game against MSU (in Bloomington)? Not saying IU would have won that game, but it would have been much closer had the refs called penalties on just a few obvious MSU infractions.

  22. V13, appreciate the takes. Sober, positive and thoughtful as always.

    It’s too early to tell much, but it seems like the game was a typical rorschach test for fans who are just tired of Indiana Football being crappy. It’s understandable. I’m trying to have zero emotional pull in either direction until the final whistle blows against OSU (but a poor showing next week would SEVERELY challenge that inner zen). In drawing conclusions, I’m more interested in patterns than fixed points. I’m not sure it is fair to taint this team with that past……yet. TA and crew have a lot to prove.

    While there were some things that were a bit of a letdown, I saw some things on the field I haven’t seen in a long time, if ever, at IU. Do I see 8-9 wins? Heck no. But perhaps this is the year where we finally drop a decent team and become part of the national discussion for a week. For the first time, I see components that can do that. Time to watch it grow, coalesce and prove it.

  23. IU could score 45 or more 1 or 2 games against the good teams mentioned but IU is not going to average 45 nor do it more than a couple times.

  24. We need to get the Justus kid on the IU Men’s Soccer team. Let him see what it feels like to play on a nationally relevant program.

    1. Sure, because they both use some sort of ball and sometimes kick it. That makes them pretty much the same game.

      Penix could pitch for the baseball team, too.

      1. Precisely! Justus could be a goalie. Penix could pitch if he could control his excitement when striking a batter out. Two for one scholarship deal.

  25. Penix could pitch if he could control his excitement when striking a batter out.

    That’s sorta funny…IU football film session.

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