Hoosiers intent on bottling up PSU run game

Penn State’s nine-minute drive to all but seal a win over Indiana last season seemed to drag on for an eternity.

And it’s a drive, to this day, the Hoosiers haven’t forgotten.

“I remember every second of that drive,” IU linebacker Cam Jones said. “It was a crazy moment. All we needed was one play. One play to stop them.”

Four times on that drive, with IU down just 27-24, the Nittany Lions were forced to third down. The very first was a third-and-9 where PSU quarterback Sean Clifford leaked out of the pocket for a 10-yard gain.

Whether it was Clifford or backup Will Levis, the quarterback run gave PSU every third- and fourth-down conversion on that drive. The scratching and clawing ended on a fourth-and-goal at the 1, Clifford punching it in for the last yard.

The Hoosiers were metaphorically punched in the gut.

“We just said, hey, we need one more stop, one more stop, and we weren’t able to do that,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “But hats off to them, they executed at a high level, and they controlled the line of scrimmage on that final drive, without question.”

This year, Allen and Co. are hoping their defense can get that one stop. It will not be easy, given the fact that PSU returns four out of five starters on its offensive line. Running back Journey Brown’s season may be in doubt, as the Lions announced late Monday that he’s being treated for a recently discovered medical condition. But talents like Noah Cain and Caziah Holmes are still in PSU’s stable.

Clifford is still there, too, capable of sneaking out of the backfield at any inopportune moment. He finished just 11-of-23 through the air for 179 yards in last season’s win over IU, but his 55 yards on the ground were more costly.

“He’s a dynamic run threat,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “We have to do a better job than we did a year ago. That’s definitely at the forefront of my mind.”

In all ways, IU is trying to embrace the challenge. Following an eight-win season, losses like the one at Penn State, or Michigan State, or against Tennessee, are results that were just beyond their reach. The hope is, with a more experienced defense, IU will not be able to move the chains so many times on third down.

All preseason, IU’s coaches have talked about the maturation of linebackers like Micah McFadden and Jones, heading into their third years of significant playing time. Wommack and Allen have noted a defensive line that’s more physical than a year prior, both a function of gains in strength and improvements in technique.

The act of finishing has become a prominent focus for 2020 because the Hoosiers know how close they were to nine, maybe even 10 wins in 2019.

“We didn’t finish, and that’s the bottom line,” Allen said of the PSU game. “Our kids believe in the process we’ve put them through here, even though it’s been unusual and different than in the past. But, nonetheless, the core values, the core principles of this program have no changed. We are not going to blink.”

PSU’s strength on the ground, paired with the fact that this is an opener, does raise concerns. Especially coming out of an unconventional offseason.

Allen and his coaching staff have watched as the points have piled up in the Big 12, ACC, and SEC, mostly because of poor tackling. At the end of games, defenses have just seemed gassed, in Allen’s view.

IU will try to avoid a similar fate. McFadden said the strength staff at IU has certainly pushed the players in conditioning, getting them comfortable with how heavy their breaths will be in the fourth quarter.

But depth, he feels, may be an even bigger factor. At linebacker, IU feels it is five-deep at just two positions.

“We are going to have a lot of guys that can play and come in,” McFadden said. “It’s just about the emphasis of keeping the standard once those guys get on the field and making those types of plays.”

There are things schematically the Hoosiers will try, too. It starts up front with a more disciplined pass-rush. Deploying a “spy” on Clifford could be helpful, as well.

Looking back, McFadden noted that IU played a lot of man coverage last year at PSU, which left the Hoosiers out of position on the quarterback run.

“We were bringing too much pressure and there wasn’t anybody to stay out and spy just in case he snuck out late,” McFadden said. “I think it’s been a huge emphasis.”

Simply put, the Hoosiers can’t allow the Lions to rack up 192 rush yards, however that may come. That includes Clifford, but it starts up front versus what Allen regards as one of the best offensive lines in the country.

When Allen was first told Journey Brown might not be available Saturday, he didn’t seem all that relieved.

“We wouldn’t dwell on that,” Allen said. “Bottom line is they are a great football team, their offensive line makes them go, and they have an excellent (RB) corps.”

IU just hopes it has the front six or seven to match, and they can make the one or two plays that win a game.

Or maybe more than that.

“I think this year we’ve brought a focus to it that it’s not just one or two plays that’s going to make the game. It’s each and every play, and each and every person on the defense,” McFadden said. “It’s each and every person doing their job and trusting each other.”

(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

51 comments

  1. Yep, it usually boils down to the battle in the trenches. I remember watching last year’s game against PSU with a sense of gloom, just knowing that IU couldn’t stop PSU when they had to.

  2. Stopping the running game, IE slowing it down, will go a long way to defeating PSU this year. IU’s defense needs to exert their will on PSU at least for parts of the game. PSU offense can’t be allowed to do what ever they choose to do each drive.

    To control the run IU has to have discipline rush lanes when they drop back to pass so Clifford can’t run for first downs. If the front four can put more pressure on the QB it will help the DBs and let LBs track Clifford better.

    The game will be here soon and all this will be determined during the game. I hope this game is the start of a real breakthrough season for the Hoosiers to follow up a good season last year.

  3. This is why I prefer less risk averse football. When we play one of the three “Murderer’s Row” teams, then we should pull out all the stops. There really is nothing to lose because we can’t be a Joe Frazier punching bag for four quarters. Take some gambles on 4th down even in less than ideal field position. Go hurry-up. Disrupt.

    I’m not sure if Allen’s slow grind up the mountain will ever be the strategy in “shocking the world”….and breaking through against deeper and more talented rosters. Wilson may have fallen short, but I think his formula was rooted in fast pace, disruption and unconventional (especially in utilizing 4th down). Gotta have some time of possession in our favor as well. Strong running game along with some fourth down conversions will help keep a defense sidelined and fresh.

    Penix should throw a 60 yard bomb on the first play of the game….Take some early shots.

  4. Time and time again IU tradition places an opponents running back, defensive player, quarterback in the running for Heisman or Bednarik award in what IU fans may consider a big game. For Penn State it is another game they care about as business as usual.

    1. t, it is time for tradition to start changing and this PSU game is a good place to start. I agree with H4H that IU can’t be a Joe Frazier in football and IU does need to take shots and hit on them against team that are more talented. There is a fine line though between taking shots and gambling hoping to win. Just as casinos don’t worry about winnings because they know the odds always let them win in the end; more talented teams believe they will prevail in the end.

      IU has enough experienced players with talent that they should be able to beat top teams each year even if they can’t beat every top team every year.

  5. I agree, currently IU football should be able to get a top team win or two each year in big ten and a good non conference for majority of years (meaning any team ranked nationally approximately from number 7 to 20) as rankings fluctuate during season. Plus some teams are overrated and some teams are underrated.

  6. No surprise there, t! That’s why they recruited him. You don’t waste a roster spot on a guy if you have doubts about his ability to start, or at least get a lot of playing time.

    It’s a mystery to me what has happened to NW’s once highly touted 5-star-rated, Clemsen-transfer QB. The guy was one of the best QBs coming out of HS a few years ago. Now he’ll begin Northwestern’s season sitting behind a lightly recruited guy with average-arm-strength who is considered a smart, guts game-manager. Just goes to show you that “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Good for Ramsey. I hope his last college season is successful.

    1. Of course P.R. is not the best. However, with all the experience and his intangibles P.R. would be hard to beat out for a starting QBs job. IU fans may be rightfully high on Penix, but it won’t work without TEAM. He has to have a lot of help from running game. Plus I am not sure how good IU receivers are? They may be pretty good but are they GREAT or at least REALLY REALLY GOOD?

      1. I think Ramsey is being used at Northwestern….It’s a good way to light an early fire under the butt of someone else waiting in the wings. It’s pretty much the same way Allen used him in Bloomington.
        Are you going to let Opie Taylor get so much PT that he turns into Tom Brady …or are you gonna show me you’re worth those 5-stars tattooed on the gridiron cleats you use to walk on water?

        Ramsey will spend a lot of time on pine in Chicago. He’s being used as a prop (and a viable back-up plan) to motivate someone else.

        1. How can we forget the look on Ramsey’s face when Penix was sent into the game to rescue the Hoosiers from Penn State? It was like someone just stole the ‘LEO’ slings from Peyton’s jockstrap.

          Prepare to see that same face at Northwestern.

          1. Not sure about being used. However, I do agree that H.J. will play and may take over not to far down the road. The only problem is he has not shown anything. Plus P.R. is a Fitz type guy. Both, P.R. and H.J. might be the guys. N.W. coach has done some of that in the past.

          2. Maybe used is too harsh….but I think coaches are very aware of motivation techniques to put to rest ‘prima donna’ attitudes.

            I sort of wish Allen would have game the same shots at his qb transfers to start right out of the gate.
            Arizona transfer, Dawkins, never saw the field before halting his football career….and Highly touted Utah transfer, Tuttle, has yet to start a game.
            Did we really have that much to lose in starting either guy against a cupcake?

            I think it’s a good call by Fitzgerald to start Ramsey in the opener. Even if there is a certain element of being “used,” there is an opportunity for Ramsey to prove his transfer worth. I’m thinking Allen should have made the same opportunity for Dawkins and Tuttle. At minimum, Tuttle should have been given far more snaps/PT last season.
            Not doing so has now left us in a far more precarious position…in the event Penix doesn’t hold up. Fitzgerald is giving his transfer, Ramsey, the opportunity to get familiar and comfortable. Allen should have utilized his insurance plan transfer, Tuttle, far more last season. Instead, he “used” Ramsey to get us to something that was sold as “breakthrough” when, in reality, it was against very soft (many .200 level teams) competition. Opportunity to get Tuttle comfortable and feeling justified in transferring to IU was squandered. Fitzgerald is not squandering his transfer.

          3. oops..I sort of wish Allen would have [given] the same shots at his qb transfers to start right out of the gate.

          4. And that presents a good question to ask some of the “insiders” closer to IU Football than I….

            How is Tuttle looking in practice? Has he also beefed up more? Does he look eager? Does the arm throw a good deep ball?
            Does he look content holding a clipboard for now? Has he learned the offense? Does he look like a gamer and someone who can lead us to more victories in the unfortunate event of another sidelining injury to Penix?

            At the end of the day, our season could very likely hinge far more on Tuttle’s readiness to “plug in” rather than Penix’s god-given athleticism/gifts ready to “shock the world.”

          5. Dawkins was a trainwreck looking for a location. His desert resume proved that. Allen made the obvious call.

          6. Then it’s an indictment for ever going 1500 miles to get him to Bloomington. And if Dawkins would have had the same early confidence to be not ruled out as a starter, then who knows…?
            Bottom Line:
            We ended up thin on qb’s as we will likely be again….Ramsey was never going to be the answer capable of beating a top team from the East. The rest of the answers are suspect in staying healthy and thin on experience.
            The position has been mismanaged and the recruits were wishy-washy (Dawkins), woefully underdeveloped physically (Penix), or over-hyped and relegated to pine (Tuttle).

            Now we enter a season with all eggs in one basket. And that basket is woven in knee injuries and an upper chest/clavicle injury which came close to ending a career. The back-up is far from ready and staring at the toughest schedule in IU history if his number is called.

            Any predictions on the record this year? Think it’s going to feel like “breakthrough?”

          7. All that was needed to coax Dawkins was green grass. Cost IU 0. He was a warm body in the QB room needed as practice fodder for receiving drills. Like most walk-on QB’s.

          8. I believe the hype around him was just a bit greater than “practice fodder.” I would encourage you to revisit some posts when he committed to transferring.
            What it cost IU was a chance to develop a committed qb with talent.

            And not using Tuttle last season may haunt us this year…V13 has plenty of posts where he agreed with the need in getting Tuttle more snaps/experience. More mismanagement.

            And when we did see Tuttle briefly last year, did he look like a qb once recruited by Alabama? So, yes, all the eggs are in one basket. And the egg has proven to not have the strongest of shell. The season could quickly be scrambled with no proven back-up, over easy for the numerous stronger opponents and hard boiled in losses.

            The thinnest we’ve been at qb going into a brutal conference-only schedule that begins with Penn State? It will be fun…It will be interesting. It could be “shock the world” as Penix alluded. It could be a very harsh slap in the reality face; a shock treatment of sorts where many will jump quickly off the Allen “breakthrough” bandwagon. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall….Humpty Dumpty had another not-so-shocking fall. Peyton Ramsey wasn’t around to put Humpty back together again.

  7. Just hope too much time wasn’t spent on ‘LEO’ rather than ‘HTO’ (Hating the Opponent).
    Football is supposed to be a game of gladiators. IU Football has forever existed as the college football team that bites its fingernails instead of eats nails. I certainly believe in brotherhood and camaraderie…but I’m not sure if all the ‘feel good’ and ‘hugs’ removes the stereotype that was already stamped on IU Football for decades.
    Do we want to be the Dirty Harry and Magnum Force for four quarters or the Scooby Doo crime solvers? Do we want the love stickers on the puttering VW ‘flower children’ van or do we want to drive the ugly unassuming muscle of the 1968 Ford Galaxie 500?
    Is LEO just an extension of those silly chrome candy-striped mod helmets that were permanently shelved? Can we hold hands in kumbaya prayer and still be devils of the gridiron hurling flaming pitchforks? Do we hold up fists of unity and still use that same fist to punch to deliver a rare punch to the gut of a top Big10 East team? Or do we remain the gentle and goofy Great Dane stuffed full of Scooby snack wins who puts his tail between the legs when a Lion, Wolverine or Buckeye comes to town? Can we transform some love into hate and be a Michael Vick Pit Bull and finally become territorial on the Memorial gridiron?

    Allen reinvents ‘love on the gridiron’ as it pertains to a game of gladiators….? Interesting concept especially within the stereotype of ‘loveable losers’ forever part of the many decades of fan indifference at Memorial (especially when, across the parking lot, Knight and the gangs of New York were over at Assembly comfortable in carnival striped pants built to be coldblooded methodical Vegematics slicing up opponents on the road to banners). I digress…

    I do love the warm fall sunshine. And nothing like the lovely pretty colors of the changing trees seen on the drive through the limestone hills heading to Bloomington. The IU campus is such a wonderful backdrop to find love …It’s a Thomas Kinkade with an overactive brush of gaudy love spatter.
    Maybe between campus walks and naps we should take in a quiet IU football game? Gotta love those Hoosiers with their fake news pitchforks on their helmets…Cute little devils. Let’s love them and give them a blue ribbon for breaking through against Keebler Cookie State. Love each other. Love is the answer. Don’t you think so, Clint?

  8. Sometimes for the month of September IU football rolls along 3and0, 4and0, or 4and1. Then, October comes along and the leafs catch fever and fall off the trees. It’s October, leafs have fever and are falling off the trees. It’s Penn State and are there leafs still hanging on a few trees?

  9. H4H, I am concerned about you and the tone you have here now. I want you to be happy and not so negative. I hope the IUFB team can brighten all our lives this year especially with this tougher schedule. The good thing is the team and especially the players are optimistic which can lead to good results. If you think coach Allen isn’t the right fit look at what Ball has done since being injured, being at practice working with the Husky players to help them learn the ins and outs of the position. Having a team so together is the right way to coach and the team wants to beat every team on the schedule and we will have to see how they do this season.

  10. T.A. is a good fit for IU. Could be an upside paradigm. However, one thing not given to much attention that could be an issue and is pretty concerning is the number of new faces in coaching positions. I know other programs have coaching turnover. IU football trying to rise in big ten east with the new faces in coaching positions is to me the number 1 concern for 2020 season and IU football future under T.A.

  11. There are only 2 big ten rosters decidedly stronger and deeper than IU. PSU is one of them. Nonetheless, they are realistically beatable. Yes the D must perform well in order to cut down their possession time. Reese Taylor is the perfect person to utiize in a couple of ‘trick’ RPO situations. If a 7th ranked squad is less than a TD favorite, that should indicate what Vegas thinks of IU’s capabilities. ND is supposedly a 4th ranked squad. If IU were playing them this weekend, I’d take IU straight up. Outside of Clemson and Alabama (so far), there is a lot of mediocre football out there right now. For starters, IU may have 2 of the top 5 running backs in the league, provided the OL can hold its own.

    1. Al due respect, it’s not at all accurate to say there are only two Big Ten rosters decidedly stronger and deeper than IU’s. There’s zero basis to say that. We’ve improved the roster, but the talent level of the team needs to be elevated quite a bit for us to compete at the top or even near it. We’re just approaching the middle, and that’s only been for a year.

      1. I didn’t say ‘better’,…’decidedly better’.
        It’s funny, Urban Myer tends to agree with my analysis.

  12. I agree with BD, IU is on the rise, but we’re still a long way from having the talent and depth that OSU, PSU, and MI enjoy. However, a really good QB can neutralize much of the talent advantage those programs have over IU. A really good quarterback can transform a team with average talent into a winner. We’ve seen it over and over and over again in college FB. In order for IU to have a good season, Penix must play well and the defense just has to be average.

  13. Really good quarterback comment is fools gold. Yes, it can help win games. However, in most cases if not almost all cases those REALLY GOOD QUARTERBACKS HAVE REALLY GOOD TEAMS/PLAYERS AROUND THEM, both offensively (OL, RBs, Receivers etc) and defensively. Plus those really good quarterbacks that have good success often have good support from their teams defense (not always but often).

    1. ^^^Accurate. And really good quarterbacks need to stay on the field for a really good chunk of time….and stay really healthy . Chest tattoos are great against Keebler Cookie State.

      Now how about some predictions?

      IU 21
      PSU 39

      Jack Tuttle throws for one touchdown.

  14. Wonder whatever happened to the Scoop commenter/contributor who went by “The Rock?” One of the signature traits of The Rock was he didn’t shy away from making a Hoosier basketball prediction (winner, who will have the big game, etc,) . Of course, some predictions were quite lofty….but I’ll get to the point.
    Why do we never see any commenters on our football threads make some predictions? All it ever is is wishy-washy a$$-covering so one can always sound right win or lose. e.g. “This person needs to have a good game”…”We need to prove this is the time ..We’ve been coming close”….”A great quarterback is the intangible to beat a better team”…..”I think we’ll play with LEO because Allen brings much LEO.”……blah….blah….blah.

    You all play it safer than Allen with his 4th downs and rigid game plans.

    Anyone have the cajones to risk their HUUUUUUUUUUGE Scoop reputation and just give a prediction….? Maybe a score? Maybe some names featuring who will have a big game …or “shock the world”…? Will it be sunny? You’re all sounding like bad weathermen. Partly cloudy with a chance of afternoon rain which could quickly give way to all sun or be a monsoon by 7:00 pm …In other words, same forecast as yesterday.

  15. Penn State 31 IU 21
    ..(IU will get late TD to move score from 17 to 24)…sound familiar?
    ..Franklin coaches well.+staff
    ..IU has several new coaching positions
    ..Fans?
    ..Penix has been studied scouted (not as much of surprise)
    ..IU will make a lot to several good plays..sound familiar?

  16. I know I could be off IU 38 PSU 28 I have to admit I don’t have a great track record for point predictions but I am not afraid to make them.

    1. Attaboy, V! Hope your prediction is right and mine is wrong. At least you want to make it fun. We hear coaches and players continually give vague remarks or claims it’s time to lasso the moon. Be specific, Mike Penix. Tell us you’re gonna “shock the world” on Saturday by bringing a victory to the fans. Everything else (including all the safe hype of Scoopers and HT journalists) is nothing other than and a pinball machine of ricocheting angles and noisy ways to cover every outcome.
      Who cares if Urban thinks we have a ton of talent. Did Urban say we’ll beat Penn State on Saturday? There is only history and the history you’ll soon make. Be bold. Say you’re going to do something (not that you’re “ready”) and do it. Ready don’t pay the bills….nor do tattoos and talk.

  17. welll GOOD LUCK having ANY KIND of Sports or even schools open after Turkey Day Vacation. You may be “fatigued” from the Coronavirus BUT yesterday served as a Red Flag Warning: 77,000 PLUS New Cases breaking the Daily record set back in July and over 1000 deaths. I saw Yesterday where High Schools in area are suffering financial support thru concessions and gate receipts. The Screwed up mentality is best exemplified at Univ. of Michigan. because of a surge in infections; they issued a “Stay-in-place” order EXCEPT for the football team!!?? Whats up with THAT decision??? The average student’s health is more important than the money brought in by players on the football team. Footb all players are 2nd class citizens?

  18. My observation: There is a difference between pressure and focused confidence. IU has almost always always been underdog in high level football competition games. Most often IU players and coaches put large amounts of pressure on themselves to Win because well the reasons are obvious. It has resulted in mistakes and choking resulting into a wilted flower or a dead southern Indiana leaf. I notice Penix (maybe others) trying to be a leader is putting this type of pressure onto himself. Understanding playing higher rated teams there is a difference between focused confidence and putting pressure on oneself causing negative outcomes is a difference maker. I have witnessed this time after time when IU plus in what is considered big games. As a result (with very very few exceptions) IU has hardly ever Won against a high rated team. Though not many or even several wins would be expected for IU against highly ranked teams…IU football can’t even claim a mere few wins against high level rated teams. So is it pressure or focused confidence?

  19. Excessive marketing ….Excessive scripture quoting., excessive catchy slogans (Win Today, Breakthrough, ect) and much of the press engaging in overkill (putting in print the same unnecessary lofty expectations, boasting….and player hype in things like “it’s time to shock the world”), all adds to the pressure before a season even begins.
    And how much lofty nonsense will we hear if simply one win is garnered against a relatively strong team? Recalling the great teams of our basketball heyday…Never any talk. Never any claims of “shocking the world.” Simply methodical and hungry to win. No hint of narcissism. Celebrations almost weirdly reserved even after winning some of the biggest games on the biggest stages. Humility. Understanding that sports is simply one part of the equations. Finding joys in the journey. Action on the court always louder than the gibberish at press conferences. Icons in character. Candy stripes can’t be painted on football helmets and suddenly equalized via marketing and shinny promises.

    I don’t know if it’s pressure…I think most of these coaches and young men already think they’re the cat’s pajamas win or lose. It’s more indifference and lowering bars to sell achievements so all can have trophies and blue ribbons. That’s pretty much the essence of college football….40 plus bowls…? Who isn’t a winner?

    1. The pressure aspect is the opposite of a picture you H4h posted of B.K. and team/players (may have been starters) walking on sidewalk. Pic exemplified confidence and focus. Some of the things you mention above plus IU football gets worked up and excited when high level game is on line they have to go to restroom and or choke resulting in lack or no execution and poor decision making. This goes for both, players and coaches. Seen it time after time. This is in addition to time after time IU is spent and higher level opponents still have another gear to shift into if and as needed to close out a game for an opponent win and IU loss.

  20. Key word. Potential as are how many potential upsets are there. Good news is there will be an upset.
    Penn State favorite by about a touchdown…At most I think that would be a minor upset if upset at all other than Penn State has only lost once to IU. That’s in the past. However, Penix may struggle against Coach Franklin and staff and Penn State defense. IU needs to make a running game statement to take pressure off Penix so he can settle in get focused and confident.

  21. Pandemic….Politics….Pigskin…and Penix. It’s all just a ‘Ball of Confusion.’ And the band played on.

  22. I like that other people are seeing the potential for this team and tomorrow it is up to the Hoosiers to show why they should rate the attention. Based on Penix and his demeanor, I don’t think they will have to settle him down. The story about him and his parents explains why he is calm and believes in himself and teammates. Having parents that build you up but also won’t let you have can’t in your vocabulary goes a long way to developing a confident son that believes in achievement through hard work.

    It looks like the weather will push through and give us a good fall afternoon for football. It should be a gray overcast afternoon in October which legends are made of in football lore. Will writers give us prose of how the golden arm of Penix lifted the Hoosiers to new heights allowing the rampaging group of RBs to run roughshod over the Nittany Lions. Will there be poetry in sports columns about the majesty of Hendershot, Whop, and Fryfogle cutting apart PSU’s secondary laying them bare to Penix who threw beautiful passes short and long nestling in the arms of the Hoosier receivers. Will they write about the iron men of defense standing strong against PSU’s offense smacking down runners and bottling up the run game while DBs patrolled the open field finding receivers to hit or take away their passes. This gray Saturday afternoon will be the day Hoosier men made their statement to the football world about what they plan to do this season and beyond.

  23. And if Penn State wins the comments will be on the order of that IU is a good quality football team. IU made good plays and we were fortunate enough to win. Give our Penn State guys credit. We made some mistakes and have to clean up our play and get better before next week on ABC with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

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