Sheridan not tipping hand on Hoosier run game

On Tuesday, Indiana running backs coach Mike Hart was speaking the truth as he sees it.

Hart believes the Hoosiers’ running game can roll with more force in 2020, and that Stevie Scott, Sampson James, and David Ellis can all be heavily involved.

“As long as we run the ball,” Hart said, turning the onus back on IU’s game-planning. “If there are only 15 carries in a game, it’s hard to say someone is going to get seven and (someone else) seven.”

“A guy can’t get into a flow that way,” Hart continued, before turning the conversation to one man specifically. “We’ll see what Coach Sheridan wants to do this year.”

It’s up to IU’s first-year offensive coordinator, Nick Sheridan, to dictate what kind of pie Scott, James, and Ellis will be sharing. But on Wednesday, Sheridan wasn’t exactly promising his running backs coach an extra large.

“No. 1, no surprise the running back coach would mention running the ball, for sure,” joked Sheridan, the former Michigan quarterback. “He was that way when we were teammates, too.”

Of course, the former Wolverine rusher wants to run the ball. But he also wants the same thing Sheridan wants: to win.

One isn’t getting boxed in by the other. Hart obviously believes the players he recruited can produce more if given the chance. Sheridan made clear he believes in them, too. But when asked about his commitment to the run, Sheridan reached for an answer straight out of an offensive coordinator’s handbook.

“If we have to throw it 70 (times) or run it 70, we really care about winning around here,” Sheridan said. “Depending on what the game looks like, what your opponent looks like, what the conditions are, I think you need to have some versatility in your offense, that you feel confident that when we have to pass it, we can pass it, when we have to run it, we can run it.

“Like I said, I know that’s a little coachspeak as far as taking what the defense (gives), but it is the truth.”

A muddied response. But true.

It’s also strikingly similar to what Kalen DeBoer would have said in 2019. And it wasn’t a failed response. DeBoer’s ability to call plays that matched the situation, regardless of how it affected the final totals, helped the Hoosiers score 30-plus points in nine out of 13 games. That success is partially why DeBoer got to return to Fresno State as head coach, and Sheridan, the tight ends and now quarterbacks coach, slid into the coordinator’s chair.

Continuity is something IU coach Tom Allen desired in naming Sheridan. But he’s also talked about a desire to run the ball better. No team threw for more yards in the Big Ten than the Hoosiers last season, but only Michigan State (3.5), Rutgers (3.5), and Purdue (2.9) produced fewer yards per carry than IU at 3.6. It was a noticeable drop from the Hoosiers’ 4.4 average in 2018. 

There is a sense from Hart that IU’s rushers can produce more — it’s just that the scheme has to do more to let them loose.

On the other hand, what works, works. A quick pass to Whop Philyor on the perimeter was a run substitute in DeBoer’s playbook if the Hoosiers couldn’t win in the box. IU didn’t always pound the run, but the Hoosiers converted nearly 47 percent on third down in 2019, which ranked fourth in the conference.

DeBoer provided Sheridan a master class on moving the chains.

“I’m forever grateful that our paths crossed,” Sheridan said. “His knowledge of the scheme, his versatility, his ability to adapt to his personnel, his timing of play calls … I think the world of Kalen DeBoer. I’m not sure how much this is advertising for him or Fresno State, but I think Kalen did a fantastic job.”

As the Hoosiers plan for this season, they seem to have the tools to play through the run or the pass. Michael Penix Jr. returns at quarterback, along with his three leading receivers in Philyor (1,002 yards), Peyton Hendershot (622), and Ty Fryfogle (604). Sheridan was also praising redshirt sophomore receiver Miles Marshall on Wednesday for the progress he has made in fall camp.

On the other hand, IU also returns tackles Matthew Bedford and Caleb Jones and center Harry Crider to lead the ground game.  They were each first-year starters in 2019, and Bedford, in particular, was thrown into the fire as a freshman following an injury to Coy Cronk. Now with some experience, that trio leads the way for a promising trio of backs. Not only is Scott an All-Big Ten player, and James a four-star recruit, but Ellis flashed his all-around playmaking ability at receiver as a freshman.

“We recruited him originally as a running back, let him play in the slot last year, and now he’s going to play some tailback. You can just utilize him multiple ways,” Hart said. “We’re just really excited about him. And he’s just — he’s special.”

It’s hard to tell how the scales will tip, from run to pass, given the weapons IU has in both facets. Mainly, it’s a question of what defenses choose to take away first.

As far as the offensive line is concerned, the Hoosiers are still looking for answers at the guard spots. Stanford grad transfer Dylan Powell and redshirt senior Mackenzie Nworah are veterans, but they have started three and nine games, respectively, in their college careers. Redshirt freshman Mike Katic could also play.

Hart believes IU’s front five can get forward momentum. They just need more opportunities to fire off the ball.

“Last year, some games, we only had 18 carries or 20 carries,” Hart said. “You have to run the ball to be able to run the ball. We have to commit ourselves as a coaching staff to running the ball.”

Hart is excited to find ways to game plan and get the running backs involved. Sheridan, again, isn’t surprised to hear that.

While he didn’t come out and say the Hoosiers will bludgeon opponents on the ground, he did extend Hart some thanks.

“I will say, Coach Hart has done a fantastic job of recruiting that room and develop that room, and we feel confident in the players that are in that room,” Sheridan said, “and look forward to them contributing in a significant role.”

(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

22 comments

  1. In the recent past, it seemed like it took a couple games against weaker non-conference defenses before IU’s O-line got their act together. Then boom, they played OSU or another Big Ten power, and the running game was stifled. OSU’s defense had no respect for IU’s offense last season. Their all star defensive backs didn’t need any help covering IU’s receivers, and IU’s O-line could not open any holes for the running backs. So if IU is going to establish the run this season, they’re going to have to start hot, and the passing game is going to have to set up the running game. I’d much rather IU run the ball on 3rd and two than try to complete a pass on 3rd and eight. And as for the running game, if we want to see improvement in the yards per run, IU’s receivers and tight ends are going to have to improve their down-field blocking.

    1. Basically, team as a whole got stifled all around on both, offense and defense enough so as to have 0 wins over big ten power teams and0 bowl game wins.

  2. To improve the running game IU will have to get better push from the OL, we will see if that is possible this season. Part of the one back system, without the QB being a major threat to run the ball, is a lack of running attempts by RBs. To effectively run the ball you need a blocker in the backfield to account for one defender not blocked by the OL. You can run the ball with one back but it is difficult if the defense doesn’t have to commit extra players to the passing game.

    It is easy to say you are going to be more committed to the running game but it would take a different approach to get the running game to be more effective on a consistent basis.

    1. Plenty of teams run the ball very effectively in one back, zone read offenses. Saying you need a blocking back isn’t accurate at all.

      1. Those teams often use a H-back or TE to add to the blocking because defenses only need to add safeties to the run to stop it unless the offense has RBs that are exceptional. I am not saying no teams can’t run the football effectively with one back but most teams, except the elite, need to add blockers on the run to run the ball effectively. They can do that from what looks like a one RB formation but just like coach Wilson did he added multiple TEs to help the running game.

        1. I think it’s really a matter of the personnel you have and how you want to stress the defense. IU is limited on the OL, both in terms of talent and depth. They’re also not deep in the backfield, and the skill set there is limited to more straight ahead, one cut runners. Lastly, the TE position, as it’s currently comprised with talent, isn’t a block first group. None of that would lead you to be a better running team if you lined up with a fullback, one or two tight, and a zone blocking scheme (think Iowa and Wisconsin). They just aren’t set up that way.

          What they do have is a mobile QB, a couple of big backs, and a commitment to get the ball out quickly in the short passing game. Further, they’re able to utilize splits in a way that opens running lanes against certain defensive alignments, so that can help. But running the ball is going to very much be a work in progress for this team.

        2. V13- Question for YOU. I know you follow the Indiana h.s. football games a lot. Has IU put out any interest/offer for Carson Steele of #1 Center Grove H.S.? Watched my first h.s. game tonight and that young man is impressive. From my understanding, no Power 5 school has offered him? His stamina was beyond impressive tonight. Of course, he’s behind a h.s. offensive line that is dominating everyone, but I was still very impressed with his balance and instincts.
          Maybe you know more….
          The junior running back on Center Grove is also very impressive. Maybe getting Steele would help with those chances as well….?

          Steele has “it factor.” Long floppy hair hanging out the back of the helmet and all business attitude. Seems mature beyond his years. Total workhorse and power runner. Bulldozer with two giant Bullfrog legs dragging two, three and four tacklers at a time. He’s already weight room certified.

          I guess I was lucky tonight while spinning through some channels. Maybe saw one of the best Indiana high school football teams in many years. They started out a bit slow…but simply dominated in the second half. They are in another league.

          1. Snippet from Indy Star…

            Center Grove (8-0), which wrapped up an undefeated season in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, trailed 13-0 at halftime. But the Trojans put together a dominant second half as Carson Steele rushed for three touchdowns and 139 of his 175 yards for the game.

            I shall end the evening with a song….from the ’70s actually highjacked decades later and used for a big chart-topper by Drake. Who knew? Hugh Hefner had a record label. Hadn’t heard the tune for eons…It just mysteriously popped into by head a few nights back and I went YouTube digging. Always sort of loved the vibe….

      2. Saying you need a blocking back isn’t accurate at all.

        Come on, V13. Find some credibility! Find some accuracy! Find some knowledge of football! Are you sure you’ve ever coached the game “at all?” Also, V13, did you know woodworkers also enjoy using a chisel? Beavers also chisel with their teeth. One stick at a time and they can dam a river.

        Modus operandi
        noun
        a particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established.

          1. Triggered by your modus. You react in the predictable fashion because your arrogance doesn’t like it called out. All know your methods. You are the liar here. You also dodged/deflected all other questions regarding your history on Scoop.
            If you are so knowledgeable on the history of comments, where were you when the train started rolling down the tracks? New screen name, PoodleDown? Crony? Joey? Tell some truth, liar.

          2. My history on Scoop is exactly one name, and one name only. This dodge won’t work at all for you, just as none of your other deflections have worked.

          3. Lying and hiding crony coward. I knew Joey would crawl out from under the woodwork eventually. And you certainly weren’t posting anything until long after the cronies were mostly dispensed (5 years too late). It took fan outrage and cue cards or the cronies would still have their lifetime appointments (might as well have been lifetime considering the dollars in incompetence they stole from Indiana).
            You must have really been obsessed….and still are. Frauds were exposed. Any defense of their nepotism and job appointments wrought in cronyism dating back to political relationships in Indy to appear as legitimate exposes a fraud the same.
            Hell, IU Athletics might as well be renamed Ice Miller Sports Holdings Co..

  3. MP’s accuracy passing from the spread will give ground game a ray of hoped for advantage. OL push and WR downfield blocking will put an edge on that advantage. DC uncertainty about Sheridan’s offensive philosophy, game planning and playcalling will be as big an advantage for the 1st 2-4 games. Best chance for taking down a big boy will be in that time frame. Can’t wait.

    1. Sheridan’s offense will not deviate meaningfully from Kalen’s. The issue is personnel. It’s a much different team with Penix, and even Ramsey. Keep MP healthy while also having him be a legit threat as a runner is their focus.

    2. I knew revealing you as the liar you are would elicit this kind of defensive response. You made up the stuff about Glass and you’ve been exposed. Liar.

  4. If the O-line can do an adequate job run blocking, I’d be disappointed if the rush attempts were less than 20 per game. Balance can, and should be the goal. This is a very strong, gifted RB corps.
    1st downs, possession and clock is a formula that reduces opposition’s offensive opportunities. Like they say, ‘a good offense is the best defense’. I’d rather win 21 to 17 than lose 42-38.

    1. They want to run somewhere between 80 – 90 plays a game, so they’ll run it much more than 20 times a game. But the OL is going to be a challenge, especially if there are any injuries.

  5. IU will not win much by just running or just passing. IU best chance is balance. The run game has to get it’s share because IU has to much strength there to over dependence on pass game. Both, the run game and pass game have to keep defenses honest so defenses can’t cheat to stop one or the other.

  6. I know he’s bigger and stronger this year, but I would not call very many designated run plays for MP this season. He’s still a very young man and not fully developed physically. MP’s most important ability this year will be his availability, through the entire schedule. He’s got good legs, but he has a much better arm, and it needs to be protected at all costs. His arm can win games and produce come-from-behind victories. His legs can’t do that. We have a lot of talent, depth and experience at the running back and wide receiver positions, so Sheridan needs to find creative ways to get those skill-players the ball in open space, whether that’s short passes to the backs, or trick run plays involving the receivers. Our more experienced tight ends should be used a lot when defenses pack the box. Most of all, I want IU’s offense to be dynamic, but also evolve into one that can, when it is required, physically punish Big Ten linebackers and defensive backs. Scott, James and our new freshman running back have the builds to do that.

    1. I think they want to do it enough to make defenses account for it. Sheridan is a quick release guy, like Kalen, so the ball will mostly come out quick. But they need some help in the running game, and Penix can keep DE’s from pinching at the POA. In their zone read work, he might keep it five times a game. In tape last year, they consistently saw teams bring a LB down in certain D and Ds, and Penix was really good seeing it in real time. KDs offense gave him a read in those situations that was both run and pass, and Sheridan’s approach isn’t a change from that. MP is bigger, but they still need to protect him. It’s a different offense without him.

Comments are closed.