IU still searching for a solid four quarters of offense

At times, Indiana’s offense has been among the most explosive in the country.

There is a reason the Hoosiers, down 35-7 in last Saturday’s third quarter at Ohio State, were able to pull to within one touchdown.

At other times, though, the Hoosiers have been more hush.

There is a reason IU fell behind 35-7 in the third quarter.

“Bottom line is we are still in that quest for four quarters of our best football,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “Hasn’t happened yet, and it’s going to happen. My goal is it happens Saturday against Maryland.”

As the No. 12 Hoosiers (4-1) get back to work for the Terrapins, Allen is looking at all possibilities for stringing together those four quarters. He wants to examine the Hoosiers’ walkthroughs, comb through the details of how his team is preparing, and then find those “drive-starters” in a game plan that lead to long marches down the field.

Simply put, the Hoosiers don’t want to be playing catchup.

For the most part, they haven’t. After working out some kinks in the Penn State opener, IU seemed to gain steam offensively in each contest that followed, from Rutgers to Michigan and Michigan State. But a slow start at Ohio State was a troubling reversion.

The run game failed to gain any traction, totaling negative-1 yard. That made it that much harder for IU’s offense to stay “on schedule” on first and second downs, leading to a 4-of-13 conversion rate on third downs. That rate was 1-of-7 heading into halftime.

“That’s a factor in the game. We didn’t execute at a high enough level for four quarters,” IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “Certainly, there were stretches we felt like we were executing very well and were very productive. But we’re chasing a game where we feel like we executed well for four straight quarters and didn’t have any lulls in execution or play design or play call, whatever it may be.”

Examining IU’s results on first-and-10 help paint the picture. There were two explosive first-down plays in the first half at OSU, a 68-yard pass from Michael Penix Jr. to Miles Marshall that set up a game-tying score, and a 51-yard pass to David Ellis that could have led to another score. Without an Ellis fumble on the very next play, which possibly leads to a 21-14 IU deficit, maybe IU’s offense doesn’t look so outpaced.

But subtract those two bursts, and the Hoosiers averaged just 2.17 yards per first-down play in last Saturday’s first half. IU averaged 3.9 yards on second downs, but, again, eliminate the two biggest gainers on that down, a 19- and a 15-yard pass, and the Hoosiers’ remaining nine second-down plays in the first half gained 1.9 yards per.

That kind of inconsistent production led to four third-down opportunities of third-and-7 or greater. That makes it harder to move the chains consistently.

“Certainly, we’re trying to start faster than we have. Some of it is play design, that’s my job. Some of it is execution, which is also my job,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan, in his first year as coordinator, has shown a willingness to accept blame when things aren’t quite right, and this case is no different. At the same time, he did acknowledge some limitations in creating a game plan in these early weeks, particularly against Ohio State.

The Buckeye defense “structurally,” as Sheridan put it, is designed to limit the run. There was also more data for new OSU defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs to study on IU’s offense after four games than the Hoosiers had information on what the Buckeyes did in three contests.

“There’s a good amount of data out there about who we are and the direction we’re headed,” Sheridan said. “Our opponent this past week had played three games and two of them weren’t really competitive in the second half, and so you’re dealing with a limited amount of data.”

So adjustments had to be made midgame, and IU’s offense certainly opened up after halftime. IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. accounted for five “explosive plays,” or passes of 30 or more yards, in the second half. Four of those came on first or second down.

Penix amassed 491 passing yards as the score steered IU away from the run. The Hoosiers had just three runs on first and second down in the final two quarters, as opposed to 11 in the first half.

This may just have to be a more pass-dominant team, given the Hoosiers’ personnel up front, but Sheridan did acknowledge the run game has to be better, and they are searching for ways to make it so.

“I told the offensive staff (Sunday), principles are set in stone but methods are not,” Sheridan said. “And if there are things we feel like we can do, whether it’s fundamentally, schematically, formationally, whatever — it may be to be more creative, to create more angles and leverages for our players to have a better run game than we did on Saturday — then we’re open to that and we are exploring any and all options.

“Because I think our strength is throwing the ball, yet if you want to control the game, you have to have a run game to do that.”

Finding a greater sense of control is imperative because the Hoosiers can’t get behind the chains — and behind on the scoreboard — as they did against OSU this past weekend.

But they know their mission. They knew it immediately after the game in Columbus ended.

“We gotta find ways to put four quarters together,” IU senior receiver Ty Fryfogle said after his 218-yard game, 184 of those coming in the second half. “That’s when this football team will be really special, when we finally put four quarters together.”

34 comments

  1. Coach Sheridan stated, “…principals are set in stone but methods are not.”

    I am all for exploring any method that helps IU generate more of a running game. However, I’m a bit surprised experienced coaches couldn’t see the problem with the running game earlier this season. It’s a solid bet that IU’s first few running plays will be up the middle for one yard gains. That is the m.o. so far this season. I don’t see IU pulling any guards, veering off tackle, running any jet sweeps, etc. It seems to me to go off tackle with James or Baldwin is a better option that Stevie Scott up the gut for 1yd.
    I don’t mean to be critical of IU And Coach TA. I love this team. I am a true diehard IU football fan. I held season tickets throughout the 70s and 80s, then sporadic attendance (at least 3 home games per season) thereafter. I’m in front of my TV any & every time IU plays. I’ve seen plenty of IU football over the years but I’ve not seen many teams that cannot generate any type of run game. That’s probably an exaggeration, but I can’t help but think that from top to bottom this year’s IU team has more talent than any of those teams in the 70s & 80s or 90’s. Is it possible for OL to shift mid-season from one method of blocking to another and be successful? At this point in time anything would help & I applaud the willingness to explore all options. I’m just perplexed that professional coaches didn’t see this as a problem earlier on. Go Hoosiers! Beat Maryland!!

    1. Thanks for seeing what I’ve been harping on all season. The article points out that coach Sheridan says part of the 3rd down conversiin problems come from being “3rd and 7”. Duh! Well Nick it’s like this,…don’t call 25-30 yard pass plays when you need shorter yardage to get the first down and maintain control.

  2. 1. They did see a problem early. They are trying to do the best with what they have. 2. They were playing OSU one of the best run defenses in the country. So if run game is a weakness it is going to be exposed badly. 3. Against lesser competition though maybe not that good it should be better. Enough to let pass game execute and in return to let run game execute some.
    The negative against OSU though some think a couple mistakes cost IU victory and OSU could say they made a couple mistakes as well…Without big pass plays IU gets romped over because of negative run game. That does not look good in remaining games. However, against lesser competition IU run game should do better.

  3. We’ll run for 175 yards against Maryland.

    The more impressive thing about our passing game against OSU? To come from four touch downs down in the second half of a game, it’s no secret you’re going to have to pass on nearly every down. And while even knowing how much we’d need to go more one-dimensional, OSU still couldn’t slow down Penix.

    To put up almost 500 yards in passing against the Buckeyes (600 yards if our receivers don’t drop far too many catchable balls), is unheard of against OSU. Have those sort of numbers ever been put up against a Buckeye team?

    As much as I understand the purists desire for balanced offensive attacks, what Penix did against OSU was beyond remarkable. Also consider this was his first game ever against OSU (meaning against a truly elite team).

    Fryfogle made some nice plays/catches. I do believe he also had a very untimely drop. I my honest opinion, Penix deserved BigTen ‘Player of the Week’ honors.

    And for what it’s worth, Don Fischer’s counterpart made a sarcastic/joking remark during the Buckeye game. So impressed by Penix, he basically said, “Let’s just pass on every down.” He made the joking remark because every time he thought the Hoosiers were going to suffer due to the run being stymied, Penix would, essentially, bail us out and make another big play.

    1. H4H, I think it is obvious that IU needs to deal with reality this year and use more of the passing game to take care of the lack of running game. That is an aspect of the passing game we haven’t seen a lot of this year. Our TEs seem to have taken a back step this year with a new coach although I am more worried about talented younger TEs not getting on the Field with the struggles Hendershot is having catching the ball.

      People wanting a more balanced offense miss out that the passing game can be very demoralizing to a defense. Pass rushers wear out, DBs get tired, one mistake creates big gains or TDs frustrating the LBs and DL. The passing game is about getting athletes in open space and not beating your head against the defensive front wall that may be better than you. H4H is right about the yardage Penix would have had if our receivers caught the ball better.

      This IU team is doing very well this year and I am enjoying watching them play. I hope they can sustain their momentum and continue the success they have had so far.

      1. Agreed. Sheridan’s offense is evolving with the realization taking place with the halftime adjustments made in Columbus that passing attack needs to sharpen and focus to elevate the offense. Now speaking out the other side of my mouth against the crabeaters we’ll see a hefty dose of running because this opponent defends the run so poorly. But still this staff has displayed the trait to make good halftime adjustments. Fast, fluid and flexible. Stay tuned.

      2. The passing game, when it works, can be all of the things you say, V. But when you complete passes at. 54% clip, you often put yourself in offensive holes. That’s how you end up punting 6 times in the first half against OSU, and how you lose the TOP by a significant margin. Tom Allen and other football people will tell you that a level of balance is needed to give your defense some time off the field. We gave up 600 yards last Saturday and had trouble getting guys on the ground. Fatigue was a direct contributor to that, and that’s a result of relying on a pass only game that creates a big upside (we came back from a big deficit) but also exposes your defense to some real challenges.

          1. If it’s the only option, then good teams will beat you almost every time and you’ll never build a sustainably successful program for the long term. It will mean that the game isn’t necessarily over when you’re down 35-7 early in the second half, but you have play perfectly to climb out of that deficit, and most good teams won’t let that happen. The poor results running the ball are a combination of average backs and below average O linemen. We can be much better there, but we haven’t done a good enough job of building that part of the team.

  4. And let’s not forget, IU was playing from behind almost the entire game. You’re not going to come from behind against an OSU defense by trying to establish your running game. In those circumstances, you go with your best weapons, which are obviously Penix and his receivers. IU had plenty of offense to win this game. But they simply committed too many turnovers!

    If IU wins out and goes on to win a significant bowl game, no one’s going to care or remember that IU’s run game was not up to par. If TA’s team finishes the season 8 – 1 and ranked in the top ten, no one will care how many yards the run game produced in 2020.

    1. Po, you are right that the right results and people will forget about any short comings. Coach Allen does need to take a hard look at the lack of running game and come up with a solution whether it is scheme or coaching. IU hasn’t had a good running game in two seasons and the seasons since Wilson the running game, has been lacking. Talking about needing a running game isn’t enough from coach as it takes more than talk to change what has happened over the past few years.

      With other areas improving dramatically it would be a shame to have the OL holding IU back once again next year.

      1. There wasn’t much running game with ‘Dunk & Dink’….Last season defenses collapsed due to Ramsey’s total lack of being a downfield threat.

        Penix can deliver all sorts of passes that Ramsey was simply incapable. He can go deep and he can go across his body across the opposite side of the field. Sure, the running game could be better. But don’t you think we’re simply calling more plays for Penix because of his far-reaching abilities to air it out?

        Those linebackers and corners on OSU are tops…They’ll stop a lot of running games. I think Penix’s ability through the air will create more success in the running game from here on out. But if nobody can stop us through the air, is it that imperative to waste a down for 3 yards? I say AIR IT OUT!

      2. Hold onto your seat, V. 175 yards on the ground coming against Maryland.

        Hoosiers will be an elite Army and Air Force dominating on ground and in the air. Stevie Scott will plow through like a Sherman tank and Penix will deliver some crushing bombs.

      3. But building a long term winning program will be based on a balanced approach rather a relying on a hot hand quarterback. Purdue has found that not having Blough take snaps has been a huge issue for them, and they’ve adapted poorly, even with two of the best receivers in all of college football. Long term success will arrive when we’re balanced, but not before.

        1. BD: Right on! Last year’s Ramsey’s ‘dinks and dunks’ WERE IU’s running game. Until they can establish one,..Sheridan needs to continue the strategy.

    2. We played from behind because we had a string of empty first half possessions that produced a turnover and 6 punts. At some point, your defense can’t withstand that lack of support from the offensive side, Penix or no Penix.

      1. Is he a different type of runner than the other two? could he get to the outside and turn it up field? There are different type of runners, but with the OL issues it may not make a difference.

    1. Ball in no way can affect the rushing attack. It’s impossible to do when you are a defensive specialist and not a RB.

  5. To the H-T, it’s “principles”, not “principals”, though I would’ve enjoyed having my junior high principal set in stone.

  6. Right you are, Bear Down. I’m going to blame auto correct because I try to watch out for such errors. Oh, well.

    As pleasing as it was to see Fryfogle earn another Big10 Player of the Week award I would have preferred to see Penix receive that recognition. IMO he out played Justin Fields. Even though there is still a lot of football to be played Penix should get serious consideration for Big10 Player of the Year. He is so valuable to the success IU football has been having.

    1. Completely agree. BigTen Player of the Week should have been awarded to Penix. Take out the drops and he throws for 600 yards. I guess just 500 yards against the #3 team (with a Heisman candidate) is chopped liver. Politics? OSU’s influence? How bad does it look for the Heisman candidate if the qb from The Basketball School’ in Indiana makes the prima donna candidate look rather pedestrian/ blase’ …..?
      This week should have been Penix 100%.

      1. I agree with posters that B1G player of the week should have been Penix as he delivered the ball to Fryfogle and the other receivers that had good games [Fryfogle had a very good game]. As H4H pointed out without the drops Penix would have a a monster day bigger than he did with 491 yards and 5 TDs.

  7. I recently spoke to two friends who are huge, life-long Buckeye FB fans. They both told me that Penix was the best quarterback OSU has played against in many years. I found it interesting that they made no mention of IU’s defense, our pass rush, our receivers or any other aspect of the team’s performance. One of my friends said, “Penix almost won you that game.” My other friend said, “our vaunted defense was “helpless” against Penix.”

    V13, while I’m sure TA, Sheridan and Hiller will work to improve IU’s O-line performance through the rest of the year, they’ll have to wait until next year to implement the fix. I don’t have the expertise to say what needs to be done, but I doubt the necessary changes can be implemented before the end of this season. In the mean time, I’d love to see one or two highly rated O-line prospects flipped and added to IU’s class of 2021. That would be a signal that recruiting isn’t the main problem.

    1. Po, I think the fix has to be done in the off-season, as there isn’t time this season, something needs to change if IU is to improve even more next year. I understand your friends perspective as Penix is a major difference maker. I have to say Jamar Johnson and Fryfogle are doing their best to move into that territory. Right now NFL evaluators rank Penix the 9th best QB in the country and fans can clearly see the talent he possess.

  8. I remember several times when both, Ohio State and Michigan would go to Rose Bowls and often had the lead (though not 28 points) and get beat by Stanford, USC and whoever after having lead late in game by conservatively running ball, punting, and then playing soft defensive coverage allowing Stanford, USC, and whoever go down the field , score and win the Rose Bowl.

  9. Good point, t. Good ol’ Midwestern steel town football meets the “speed” and “flash” of the Pac-10 (before Pac ‘Pick a number’) . It was disgusting to watch rust buckets against Ferraris.
    Now we finally have some flash at qb and people are bitching we don’t have enough power running game? Sure, wouldn’t we like it all? Yes. But given that’s tough to do overnight, I’m thinking Penix is making this faster success far more possible.

    We had some dandy runners under Wilson (Howard & Coleman). But I’ll take some speed in our defense and an aerial assault over having an NFL caliber running back and little else. Love to have it all overnight…..But the stellar guy we have at quarterback (and a much improved defense) seems to be a pretty good formula for this turnaround. We may fare pretty damn well against some very good SEC teams. Very good secondary(as you’ve mentioned many times) and a qb/receivers with big play potential. Glass is far more half full than half empty.

  10. Oh by the way no one has mentioned a couple bad calls or no calls by refs that went IU’s way. Just say’n.

  11. I was surprised on the opening kickoff, the OSU tackler clearly led with his head and hit our receiver in the head- an obvious targeting penalty that resulted in no call. Instead, Gus Johnson, WHO. OVER. EMPHASISES. EVERY. WORD. just went on about how loud the hit was (it was loud because it was helmet-to-helmet contact). OSU also got away with several holds on Jerome Johnson. But IU clearly fumbled on a play and got the ball back. Overall, I thought it was called evenly and not in either team’s favor.

  12. My point is that OSU didn’t get all the calls to go their way. IU got calls to go their way as well. I noticed Brohm and Day addressing big ten officiating with big ten. T.A. needs to do the same as warranted to keep up. Currently, maybe officials have an appreciation for T.A. as in something new as in culture for IU football program.

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