Young receiving duo shines for IU in the clutch

During the biggest drive of the Hoosiers’ young season, their bigger-name pass-catchers were certainly involved.

All-Big Ten receiver Whop Philyor hauled in Michael Penix Jr’s first offering, a toss to the boundary for 12 yards, as Indiana began its last-minute march versus Penn State. IU tight end Peyton Hendershot eventually snagged the last ball, a five-yard catch just short of the goal line, which set up Penix’s runs for six and two points to tie the No. 8 team in the land at 28-all.

But the usual suspects weren’t the only ones responsible for IU’s all-important drive in a stunning overtime win. Javon Swinton, a freshman wideout in his very first college game, worked the sideline for a pair of first-down grabs. Jacolby Hewitt, a redshirt sophomore just 16 months removed from a torn ACL, laid out for a post route over the middle, which Penix delivered despite an impending collision with PSU edge-rusher Jayson Oweh.

Hewitt brought in the 14-yard catch despite the outstretched arms of corner Tariq Castro-Fields.

“The next day, I had to go over (Penix’s) house and go kiss him,” Hewitt said, “because I was like, ‘Man, you a bad man for throwing a ball like that. You a bad man.'”

Penix made clear, he will trust whoever is on the field to make a game-winning play, whenever that time comes. Swinton and Hewitt were just in the right place, at the right time. But they are more than just a pair of random add-ons to the story of the PSU win.

Hewitt was Swinton’s host on his official visit to IU last December. One of the more colorful characters on the Hoosiers’ roster helped assimilate one of the more promising playmakers the program has recruited in a while.

It just couldn’t have been known at that time where Hewitt or Swinton would fit into a game like last Saturday’s opener. Especially after a practice in June 2019, when Hewitt was running a double-move and one of his legs faltered.

“My leg got stuck in the ground and just gave out,” Hewitt said. “I really don’t know how to explain it. It just happened so quick.”

Hewitt, who redshirted his freshman season, would have to wait another year to play. After his surgery, Hewitt had to learn, for the first time in his life, how to get up and work without two good legs.

It was an accomplishment when then-IU speed coach Matt Rhea could record Hewitt marching deliberately across one end zone in Memorial Stadium the following August, his right leg still somewhat stiff, but balancing and pushing through as his left leg whipped around.

“It was difficult … where I had to try and maintain my focus and my mindset and attack every day,” Hewitt said. “It was a lot of long days, I would say.”

Hewitt had to build back up to the moment, reclaiming a place in IU’s receiver rotation. Swinton, on the other hand, had the talent and the smarts to be an immediate impact player for the Hoosiers. It just wasn’t always clear what role he would be assigned.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound “athlete” from Stafford, Va., served as both a rangy, lockdown corner and an explosive, playmaking receiver in the prep ranks. Throughout the recruiting process, North Stafford head coach Neil Sullivan remembers there being a tug-of-war between IU’s coaches about which side of the ball Swinton would play.

His attention was evenly split at North Stafford. Along with corner and receiver, he was Sullivan’s backup quarterback. Swinton was also the all-time leading scorer for the program’s basketball team.

“You’d have to ask them what finalized it. Either way, they were going to get a playmaker,” Sullivan said, who can run down a litany of highlight-reel plays. He recalls a stretch to start Swinton’s junior year, where the first six times he touched the ball, whether on offense or defense, he scored a touchdown.

“We looked at that, and we were like ‘He needs to get more touches,'” Sullivan said. “Get him the ball.”

The moment he arrived in Bloomington, that’s what the Hoosiers seemed to figure out. Swinton was often the first name out of IU coach Tom Allen’s mouth when he talked about players impressing at fall camp, and PSU was his chance to prove why.

Swinton was focused on one sport and one position. And he was determined to make the most of it.

“I felt like coming in, I didn’t want to be one that sat on the bench,” Swinton said. “I know the quicker you learn the playbook, the better chance you have to get on the field.”

As the receivers behind Philyor, Ty Fryfogle, and Miles Marshall on the depth chart, there was some competition between Hewitt and Swinton for snaps at fall camp.

But they both impressed. One for his ability to work his way back from injury. The other by studying so hard and showing off his uncanny knack for finding the football.

“He always looks out for me and I’ll always look out for him. That’s like my brother,” Swinton said of Hewitt. “Even though we’re competing, we both just are supporting each other. We know both of us need to step up.”

Swinton quoted their motto, “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”

In the fourth quarter, after Miles Marshall took a hit to the head on a PSU targeting penalty, both Swinton and Hewitt were needed. And another player in Swinton’s circle opened the door.

PSU running back Devyn Ford, who was a year ahead of Swinton at North Stafford, scored a 14-yard touchdown with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter to give the Nittany Lions a 28-20 lead. While that touchdown gave Ford 63 yards on the day, dropping down at the 1-yard line would have given PSU a chance to drain the clock.

“Really, it was coming full circle,” Swinton said. “You’re on the big stage, playing against a kid you’ve known for a long time. Really came full circle. We talked even before the game, gave each other ‘good lucks’ and stuff like that. Then even after the game, we had a little conversation about how things went.

“It was a very good feeling to see one of your close friends on the same stage.”

Sullivan enjoyed it, as well. Just not so much for Ford after that error late in the fourth quarter.

“It was a really fun game to watch, as a former coach, it was whoever had the ball, there was a (North Stafford) Wolverine potentially on the field,” Sullivan said. “I felt bad for the whole situation for Devyn. Devyn is hypercritical of himself.”

On the other hand, Ford’s mistake allowed Swinton his opportunity. His two catches netted the Hoosiers 23 yards.

“Javon Swinton, lo and behold, he had nine snaps in the game, and two of the biggest catches of the game,” Allen said. “And you think about Jacolby Hewitt, all he’s been through, he had an ACL injury a year ago. That was his first college football game and he makes the biggest catch. That throw by Michael Penix, you watch that one on film, he got hit and just a tiny, tiny window.

“An amazing catch by a young man, Jacolby, who has overcome so much.”

Three catches that changed the course of a game, but also could serve as the jumpstart to two careers. Swinton, always game-ready, is now game-proven. Hewitt, who had to wait so long for his opportunity, made his first catch as a Hoosier in spectacular fashion.

IU junior corner Jaylin Williams, who, like Hewitt, is a native of the Memphis, Tenn., area, was screaming “That’s my dog” into a sideline camera after his classmate’s catch.

“It was like a dream come true for me, really, because I’ve been waiting to see him on the field for almost three years now,” said Williams, who had a game-changing pick versus PSU. “For him to do that and make that big of a play, I was almost as happy for him as he was for himself.”

And yes, Hewitt was quite happy. He wanted to kiss Penix for that perfect ball. “I told him,” Hewitt said, “he dah one. He’s Heisman, Heisman, man, right there.”

He’s just happy Penix looked his way. Hewitt felt his moment coming, before the pass was thrown.

“I just got prepared mentally and physically before the ball was even snapped,” Hewitt said, smiling. “When it was my time to shine, I shined.”

(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

2 comments

  1. That drive to finish the final 1:42 of the game was one for the ages [now to play that way all game and become a great team]. It was very nice seeing young receivers stepping up to balance out the receiving corps; Whop and Hendershot both came up big at the end of the game too. The exciting thing is the receivers and Penix showed they are capable of playing at a very high level, it is up to them to do it on a regular basis so IU can become a championship team.

    Penix delivered pinpoint passes while getting drilled while releasing the passes. Penix showed he can take the pounding that happens in the B1G. Our receivers showed they can make the tough catches Penix can deliver. Our OL needs to do a better job, even against the best, of keeping Penix untouched during the game and opening holes for our talented RBs.

    I expect to see a different offense this week against a solid Rutgers DL with our RBs having areas to run through. Coach Sheridan needs to incorporate schemes to help the OL when they are overwhelmed by a defensive player.

    It will also be good to see how IU’s defense does against a good offense instead of one that is supposed to be one of the top offenses in the conference. Our defense will be challenged but not in the deep water fighting to save themselves. Can the defense control an offense to dictate the things they can do. We seem to have the players to force their will on Rutgers offense and we need to see that happen Saturday.

  2. As the one that said “IU had a slugger’s chance against PSU”,..this weeks game in NJ worries me. I watched Schiano’s Q and A with reporters. He’s a very experienced, effective, level headed head coach with a good staff and a team that had 7 takeaways vs MSU. This will be a ‘dogfight’….notice the diminishing line,…13.5 to 13, to 12,…now to 11. If IU can run the ball with Scott and James..it should be okay, if not, then all bets are off.

Comments are closed.