Ball’s return and other notes from Cream and Crimson game

Ahrod Lloyd took the handoff, but he didn’t get far.

The walk-on running back gained a yard, maybe less, toppling to the turf on a textbook tackle by Marcelino Ball, who charged around the edge to stop Lloyd cold in his tracks early in the annual Cream and Crimson game.

For Ball, moments like that one Saturday served as a reminder of the player Indiana possesses inside its defense, the one that arrived as an instant-impact freshman before losing nearly all of his sophomore season to injury.

Now, Ball is looking to re-establish himself as the skilled, versatile hybrid safety he knows he is — and the playmaking leader Indiana now needs him to be.

With eight senior starters from last season lost to graduation, IU’s defense is retooling for what the program hopes is a bounce-back season in 2018. Ball, along with others in the secondary and along the defensive line, is being tasked with propelling the Hoosiers to that elusive winning season.

In Ball’s case, Saturday brought the latest checkpoint in his path toward getting there.

Representing the victorious Crimson side, Ball flew around the field in the 37-28 win. He stuffed runs, harassed Cream quarterback Michael Penix and reminded slot receiver Whop Philyor that any route across the middle is at risk of ending with a loud, physical tackle at the feet of his 6-foot, 218-pound frame.

“I’ve felt pretty good,” Ball said. “There have been ups and downs as far as good days and bad days. I think the good have outnumbered the bad. … There have been things that changed since I was in there, and it’s about six months since I played. So, you know, the first week or two it was kind of like, ‘Dang, I forgot how to play.’ But it comes back. I’m still making mistakes, but I give myself a little leeway for not being on the field for so long.”

That leeway only extends so far.

For as impactful as Ball can be with his play, Tom Allen needs him to become even more so with his words and actions. As the Hoosiers seek to replace all the talent and wisdom lost on the defensive side of the ball, Allen wants Ball to ride at the crest of the next wave of IU defensive standouts.

More than anything, Allen wants Ball to be the leader that attracts those around him and makes them better.

“He’s bigger, stronger and faster, and what I need to see him do is be more consistent,” Allen said. “He has got a tremendous skill set. His ceiling, I believe, is high, for his improvement. When you miss as many games as he missed, you come back, and even spring ball was a little rusty in the beginning, but I need him to lead that group of guys and do my job to the fullest of my effort and attention to detail every single day and then bring guys with me.”

Ball knows he has to follow through on his coach’s wishes. But that’s going to take time, he admits.

After missing all but three games in 2017, Ball is re-acclimating by letting his play speak for itself.

“I try to lead by making plays,” Ball said. “I’m trying to be more quiet than I was, because I feel that if you make plays, show effort and stuff like that, your players will follow you. And then you can probably speak more.

“Right now, as I said, I’m coming back from six months (off). So I’m still trying to get in my groove. In my shoes, I feel I can’t really speak right now as a leader, like Jon (Crawford) and Reakwon (Jones) and others, guys who have been in there every day showing and making plays out there. So I’m just (trying) to stay in my zone.”

Ball’s zone covers a wide swath of ground.

In his hybrid role, he plays the run as much as he plays the pass. This spring, IU moved Ball and the rest of the hybrid “Husky” position players into the linebackers meeting room to work on different coverages and gain different perspectives.

After IU’s defense finished No. 27 nationally in total defense (340.1 yards allowed per game), the Hoosiers are eager to build on their upward trajectory.

Although the losses within their defense hurt, there’s optimism that the fall-off won’t be too pronounced.

Allen believes getting Ball back ready to elevate his game could go a long way.

“If you would have told me last year we were going to miss him for eight games and play the kind of defense that we played, I don’t know if I’d have believed you, because he’s that valuable to our defense,” Allen said. “Great to have him back.”

Quarterbacks continue competition

Across this spring’s 15 practices, Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix have gone head-to-head in the early battle for IU’s vacant starting quarterback job.

Saturday’s abbreviated Cream and Crimson scrimmage — which lasted only two quarters of official action — brought the final installment.

Unofficially, Ramsey went 5-for-8 for 30 yards passing, while also bursting through the right side on a 53-yard touchdown run early in the contest.

On the other side, Penix passed for 56 yards, completing four of his 11 throws.

“I’ve been impressed with Mike Penix,” Allen said. “I’ve been impressed with Peyton Ramsey.”

Although the competition will continue when Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins arrives later this summer, Dawkins is the presumed frontrunner for the job.

Standout plays of the day

Defensive tackle Jacob Robinson and safety Khalil Bryant combined for a third-down sack of Penix early in the first quarter. Defensive tackles Ja’merez Bowen and Gavin Everett also recorded sacks.

Redshirt freshman safety Juwan Burgess was among the most impressive defenders on the field Saturday. He appeared as one of IU’s quickest, most athletic players and broke up a deep pass from Ramsey to Luke Timian late in the first half.

Andre Brown also intercepted Ramsey along the far sideline early in the scrimmage, but the play was wiped out on an offsides penalty.

Ricky Brookins scored the only other touchdown of the day on a five-yard run set up by an impressive 20-yard pitch and catch between Penix and tight end Austin Dorris.

Allen high on Lloyd

Walk-ons received the bulk of the reps at running back on Saturday. For Lloyd, it was a chance to author a final, fitting chapter to a productive spring.

The Park Tudor product emerged as another depth option for the Hoosiers this spring, running for tough, hard-earned yards in recent practices.

It was all enough to earn consistent praise from Allen.

“I’m going to keep mentioning him,” Allen said. “I know he’s a walk-on that no one really knew much about, but you saw him even today making plays. That young man is going to help this program because he’s quick, he’s tough, he’s strong and he’s fast, and so to me, that’s pretty good qualities to have, and he cares a whole bunch, and I’m really excited about him.”

7 comments

  1. Ball is the type of recruit IU needs to hit on to become better in the B1G. He was a 3 star athlete that is clearly a better player than other 3 stars; IU has several on the team like that, Crawford, Whop, and Ellison come to mind. Ball has the physique of a B1G player along with the ability that is needed. Burgess and Fitzgerald both seem to of the same mold like Ball and they looked good in the scrimmage video we were able to see.

    The defense looked good but didn’t face a top quality RB so it is hard to tell how they will hold up. There are athletes that can make plays and how well they mess will determine how good the defense will be.

  2. Ball is the real deal, and I just hope he stays healthy all season.

    Obviously, I did not watch the game, but the passing stats certainly were not impressive for either Penix or Ramsey. Basically, Ramsey completed five short passes (averaged 5 yards per completion), and Penix completed less than 40% of his attempts. Ramsey’s 53 yard TD run is impressive. I didn’t think he had the speed to go that distance.

    Why play only two quarters? You’d think these guys as many reps as possible.

  3. PO, the passing stats weren’t great and to be honest they didn’t really attack the defense with the pass. Part of that is the secondary looks to be a strength especially the safeties. Ball, Crawford, Burgess, and Fizgerald look to be the real deals. The other issue is not having Westbrook, Hale, or Fryfogle really limited the WR talent. I hope the incoming WRs really upgrade the WR as our youngest WR worry me.

    While we didn’t see any of our top RBs or WRs offensively Whop looks to be a star in the making and Dorris looked good at TE. Craig Nelson showed the speed coaches have said he has and could be a change up at times. The OL looked more solid this year despite the Defense having several sacks but until they go against top DLs we won’t know how good they will be.

    The Defense looks to have potiential and it will be stronger in the back end in 2018. The DL showed an ability to rush the passer at times and keeping holes reduced for the run game. Our LBs ran to the ball well and our DBs have some real talent to make plays.

    It will be interesting to see how this team comes together this Fall and how many if any freshmen can breaking in to the lineup and earn playing time. S&P has IU winning 5.5 games in 2018 so I hope this is the year they can break through and win more than anticipated. The youngsters give me hope that the team will only get better in the next couple of years.

  4. v13, you are advising fans that the Indiana coaching staff elected not to pass the ball in a scrimmage game, because the secondary is the strongest part of the Indiana team. If you do not challenge this section of the team how can you expect the secondary to get any better. I agree with your assessment of the wide receivers corp, with the injuries it is in total disarray. It will be very interesting to see how the quarterbacks and wide receivers corp get their (routes) timing together by the fall seasons. In watching the BIG 10 network describe Indiana as a team in rebuilding mode. They are no longer able to run the ball and with what I see as a very average receiving corp they have no passing game. If you want to make some easy money this year, if Vegas put the Indiana game winning total at 5.5, take the under and go to the bank.

    1. I think Hale and Westbrook are each as good if not fundamentally better than Cobbs. Timian is already proven. The 2018 WR corp will be good. How good depends on QB play.

  5. IU79, I am not saying they chose not to attack due to the strength of the secondary. I have no idea what reason they decided to not throw as much as they did last year but I am guessing the three leading WRs missing was one reason. I wouldn’t be shocked if IU is in a rebuilding mode which is why I think 2019 is the season to know what this staff can do. However, no one was predicting MSU would return to 10 wins or ND would bounce back to national prominence so I don’t hold with predictions at this time of year.

    IU has several things that could make 2018 a better year than expected: talented young players gettting time on the field, improved size, speed, and conditioning due to the change in S&C program, and hopefully avoiding major injuries. We won’t know what the season will be like just as the 1967 IU team surprised everyone after a 3 win season. Playing in the B1G East will make it hard to gain more wins but the close games from last year gives some of us hope they can pull off a couple more games in 2018.

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