Grad transfers Matthews, Anderson up to task in spring ball

While a grad transfer usually brings experience to a team, not all experienced players like to practice.

Indiana coach Tom Allen described it Wednesday as “NFL veteran mode.” Because of their stature, they don’t think they should have to do everything in practice. They avoid doing the dirty work.

But with defensive end Ryder Anderson, who arrived midyear from Ole Miss, Allen found an experienced player who was the furthest thing from “NFL veteran mode.” The 6-foot-6, 266-pound senior was willing to be a Big Ten scout-teamer this spring.

“We’d say ‘Hey, we need some guys to jump in here and give us a look’ … and he always jumped in there, immediately. Never had to be asked,” Allen said. “It just showed a selflessness, a maturity. It was like ‘Wow, this kid didn’t come in here entitled.’

“And he is coming from a team that had some good success.”

Part of that success, Allen acknowledged, was the Rebels beating the Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl. Ole Miss finished its season with a win. IU didn’t, and that set the tone for the Hoosiers as they came into spring practice, which wrapped up last Saturday with a scrimmage.

But a player who came over from the winning side of that bowl didn’t come complacent, which is why Anderson was recognized as one of the Hoosiers’ top defensive players this spring. The other defensive honoree was linebacker Micah McFadden. Offensively, another grad transfer, wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr. from Florida State, shared the top spring honor with walk-on running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter.

“Just a really likable person, excited to be here, thankful to be here, just all those things you’re looking for,” Allen said of Matthews. “Accepts hard coaching, accountability, all those things. Sometimes you get called out, you know, and just being able to handle all that when things are going fast as an offense. Just trying to get lined up in a new system, he’s trying to learn, all those things. Just his maturity, I thought, showed.”

Since they arrived at IU, there have been high hopes for what Matthews and Anderson can provide the Hoosiers in their final collegiate seasons. Matthews has been pegged as a replacement for Whop Philyor in the slot. Anderson adds another edge-rusher to a front four that could stand to create more pressure without secondary blitzes.

They got off to a good start. Matthews and Anderson were named IU’s practice players of the day for the offense and defense, respectively, at the start of spring camp. Their attention to detail didn’t fall off, though, as IU went through its 15 practices.

Anderson, in particular, didn’t miss a single practice, which will earn him another award at IU’s post-spring luncheon.

“All the guys who have the most reps for their position group during our lives periods, to reward those guys for being, tough, hard-nosed, gritty guys, for all 15 days, no breaks … he’s going to be one of those guys,” Allen said. “He was out there every practice, busting his tail, going hard, as a guy that’s not a young guy.”

Of course, Allen knew a little bit about Anderson before he arrived at IU, because the Hoosiers faced Ole Miss in the bowl game. Allen also has coaches on staff with Ole Miss ties. But this spring has given Allen more of a chance to see what Anderson is working with.

It’s become apparent why Anderson finished second on Ole Miss’ team in tackles for loss (seven), as well as first in quarterback hurries (six).

“We saw him in person in the bowl game and knew he was just a big, physical guy,” Allen said. “When we got him here, I just felt he was more athletic than maybe I even anticipated.”

Matthews, a 5-7, 153-pound receiver, is exactly what Allen expected. That allows the Hoosiers to feel much better about their slot receiver heading into the summer and fall.

The Jacksonville native had 36 receptions for 355 yards in 2019, but he opted out of the 2020 season as a senior at FSU.

“Just his quickness, very, very good route-runner. Not a very big guy but extremely quick,” Allen said. “He’s who we thought he was as a player. He was productive in the ACC, also has a chance to help us in the return game. Very elite returner in the ACC there, as well.

“Just really excited about having DJ with us and a chance for him to come here and have a great finish to his career.”

The spring was the beginning of that final chapter. Anderson and Matthews left a positive impression.

A grad transfer that’s willing to play scout-team reps? That’s rare.

“To me, he’s made our football team better already, and I’m excited for him, and there’s a reason why he was voted as the most outstanding defensive player for the spring, him and Micah,” Allen said. “He’s a really good football player, but he’s an even better person.”

32 comments

  1. Great to hear those two showed up and played their best and I hope both give their best against the best in the B1G and help IU beat them because we have players that are tough on defense and play with abandon. Pair Matthews with Penix or Tuttle and IU’s offense will be very good especially if the OL improves this season and blocks well for RBs creating a good running game.

  2. Just read that IU offered Josh Hoover, a class of 2022 QB out of Texas. He’s currently rated as a high 3-star, Pro-style QB, but the highlight tape makes it clear that he has a very strong, very accurate arm.

    Hoover is a bit different from the QBs on IU’s current roster. He’s listed as a 6’2″ and 210 lbs. pro-style QB. But given the number of high quality QBs in Texas, my guess is that he’s better than his rating suggests. One thing is for sure; he has a cannon. On paper, Arkansas is IU’s primary competition so far. Most of his other offers come from mid-major schools, although that’s probably going to change soon.

      1. t, IU will be even better this year despite what 247 says. IU has a great coach and coaching staff with three transfers and two will be starters that are excellent football players to add to our team. 247 is wrong and IU will be better next year.

      2. It’s not that I favor espn. I just use their rankings on individual players knowing they get information elsewhere for consistency along with lists of schools who offer each player.

        1. Look at Mississippi State’s ranking or putting Cincinnati down at 27 etc. As you go through the rankings that just don’t match up well with results with players returning.

          1. They’re very speculative and probably just designed to get fans talking. It’s kind of like star ratings for recruits.

    1. 247 also listed IU’s middle linebacker as a 2*. Last year he was all B1G. Even if their overall record isn’t as good as last years, it’s still a better team as well as coaching staff.

  3. Of course that’s what they say. They still don’t believe. It’s all about IU’s history in FB and Recruiting Class rankings. But if Penix is and stays healthy, he can be the difference maker.

    1. Po, even if Penix isn’t ready Tuttle showed he can win games too. With the two of three transfers IU will be better with either QB. Tuttle was throwing into tight coverage in spring practices and calling line calls and reading the defense faster. I still want Penix to be ready and lead IU because he is a real team leader but now Tuttle is too with the experience during spring practice.

      1. I don’t disagree, V. I like everything about Tuttle and I’m confident he will be much improved as a result of his game experience last year and taking the first team reps in Spring FB. But let’s be honest. There’s a reason why TA has continuously and unequivocally stated that Penix is the starter. Penix is a difference-maker; he’s a special talent. That’s what I call certain players who have the ability to elevate the talent they’re surrounded by. Had Penix not been injured last season, I believe IU would have won its first bowl game in decades. That’s not a criticism of Tuttle, it’s just that I believe Penix would have found a way to win the game. I remember how Penix lit up a very good OSU defense last year and the play he made to win the PSU game. He’ll do those special things again this year if he can remain healthy.

  4. To ponder, realistically. The Hoosier secondary and linebacking corps are as good/better as anything in the power 5. On offense, the same, generally, can be said for the skill positions. Specialty teams are fabulous. IF the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball were at those levels, this team could realistically vie for a national championship. The ’21 squad, in my opinion, should be noticeably better than ’20, regardless.

    1. We’re nowhere near those levels at any position group, with the possible exception of quarterback. We’re building some nice talent and depth on both sides of the ball, but this is still a team that got run up and down the field by a 4-5 Ole Miss squad that was missing nearly all of their frontline talent on offense, and one that struggled to move it effectively on O both before and after MP went down. This is a 5-4 / 6-3 BiG team in 2021.

      1. Like I said,..”if the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball”. I’ll take IU’s secondary over anyone’s in the B1G right now. Penix burned OSU for just under 500 yards,..Tuttle worked Wisconsin methodically like a violinist..same versus everyone else, even ‘mighty’ Mississippi. If you don’t think this team will be appreciatively improved then you aren’t paying attention. Last year, and 2019 for that matter, were merely indications of what’s transpiring.

        1. We’re improved, but we’re nowhere near those levels from a talent perspective. Not even close. The IU secondary and the entire defense got run up and down the field against OSU and Ole Miss, and Mississippi played with most of their best guys out. Wisconsin, while a great win, was Covid ravaged. I get the enthusiasm of fans, and I’m one of them, but we aren’t where you think we are. It is improving, which is good.

      2. Guess what? Ole Miss ran it up on Alabama as well. As for weak scheduling ( yes I realize they are made well in advance) opening at Iowa and playing the top group of five team, Cincinnati isn’t what I’d call automatic.

        1. Offensively, they did. With their top skill players, unlike when we played them. Defensively, the were run over in every way possible.

          1. I agree. I watched the game. As a matter of fact, they made us look like a MAC team at times. As was pointed out after the game,..playing at noon in 80° weather had lots to do with it,..for IU, not Mississippi.

          2. The weather wasn’t nor should have been a factor. It was a relatively low humidity day in central Florida in January. Our first three or four games next Fall will be played under more challenging weather conditions.

  5. I’d say it’s more like a 4-5 / 3-6 team in 2021. With the pandemic lifting, rosters more stable, and stadiums filling up, we’ll see far less anomalies on the scoreboard. If Penix can’t stay healthy, it could get very ugly. Penix is the game-changing talent making up for some of the other talent deficiencies/shortfalls. Tuttle is adequate…but getting in the seat of the race car with a couple laps to go doesn’t adequately give the credit where the credit was due.
    Michael Penix was our Andretti. Penix brings the fans to track. He’s the guy with “fast” in his veins. He’s the guy who gives the Hoosiers their swagger.

    1. Until proven otherwise, I believe the pandemic contributed to a very topsy-turvy season and results which may be somewhat of an illusion with regard to the upward and downward swings evident in the BigTen.

      I also think the health of Penix as the imperative. He has yet to go an entire season injury-free…That creates some instability in predictive stances.

      In addition to the unique environments while playing with zero fans last year, I saw the Penn State game as the win that shot us out of the cannon and built the momentum for a season which may be extremely difficult to repeat. That win doesn’t happen without Penix’s miraculous performance/plays. Tuttle is fine….but I see Penix as a game-changer who can put a team on his shoulders/arm that otherwise ends up in the ‘L’ column.

    2. Apparently. How pathetic. IU’s schedule is pre season ranked 7th toughest in the country. Even at that, 3 or 4 wins is an insult.

      1. We play in the BigTen East….No surprise that our schedule will always be ranked with some of the toughest. No surprise that we’ve always scheduled soft in non-conference to account for the BigTen East while striving for .500 overall to get to low tier bowls. No surprise that a season wrought with a pandemic and no fans at our toughest venues could lay the groundwork for a “breakthrough” season….No surprise that a very gifted qb got us over the hump in close games IU Football has historically lost because of no true game-changing talent at the key position.

        What will be a surprise is if this season repeats similar results to last against the likes of OSU, Michigan, Penn State. We’ll see. A healthy Penix is a must…in my humble opinion.

  6. I think a healthy (same with Penix Or really any qb) J.T. is a very good qb…though hasn’t really showed how good he may be. IU football is somewhat similar to IU Ladies basketball. They can win several games but are also beatable. IU football could win 7+ games or play .500 ball or below. The most disturbing game last year was bowl game which IU really put a high priority on to win but failed to do so and ole Miss with their average record controlled that game and players looked better. Then, how accurate was that because of J.T. playing with one arm. That’s why I always say IU qb room is much better but still not anything more than necessary. A positive is a transfer player from Ole Miss to IU so that player must like what he sees.

  7. This season will determine how much IU’s football program has improved. The past two season have created better season than we have seen in years. Last season IUFB showed they could win games they couldn’t in the past and this season need to show that is still true this year. I think IU’s talent is closer to the “big boys” with the starters and IU has players that could be stars on those teams. IU is still short enough of those players but getting closer each year.

    IU getting off to a 3-0 start will go a long way to another great season. Beating Iowa and Cincinnati will prove this team has learned to win games past IU teams couldn’t.

  8. Agree, V13….Much will be unveiled/learned this year. Are we the same Hoosier program that can see success once every 40 or 50 years (more often timed to when the true powerhouse teams have the anomaly of the very rare down season or two over the span of decades)? Or are we a program truly evolving into something consistently competitive and sustainable? LEO works fine when you’re winning.
    Loyal Hoosier football fans feel some reciprocity in “love” and respect about every 4 to 5 decades. We have endured countless decades of doldrums . We have seen brief revivals mixed with hype packaging ….only to see the product revert back to its same dysfunctional manner. I like the fact that players and coaches love each other….I’ve just always wondered if the football program forgot how to respect those who would love to love the product from the seats?

    Time will tell….

  9. As I have said before this season is an important season to keep IU’s momentum going and spring practice showed players are fired up and wanting to win and play hard. This coming season is time for the players and coaches to prove they are capable of beating some if not all the better historical programs.

    I have faith in our team and coach, even the new coaches, and think they will play even better than last season; they won’t let the fans stop them from winning games. Our players can be fired up by opposing fans and play hard against opponents. I am excited for this up coming season and hope the players and coaches don’t let me down.

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