4 things we learned from IU’s win at FIU

INDIANA 38, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 28

1. It will be fascinating to watch this offense develop.
The Indiana offense that took the field for Saturday’s season opener looked exciting, effective and versatile in its attack. It would have been encouraging to see a more consistent push from the line throughout the night, but by the end of the contest, that group had taken control against a legitimately talented and big FIU front seven.

Speaking of the quarterbacks, IU’s second-half rotation worked as well as IU coach Tom Allen could have hoped. Both Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix picked apart an inexperienced FIU secondary, while combining for a completion percentage of 75 percent. They worked 10 different receivers into the mix, and enjoyed great success in the red zone, where IU utilized its bigger receivers and tight ends to an advantage. IU scored in five of its six trips into the red zone, producing 31 points and four touchdowns. And, for the most part, the IU offense stayed on track all night by averaging 6.6 yards per play on first down.

Donavan Hale, who hauled in two touchdowns, could be a major difference maker if he can stay healthy. One of the best athletes on the roster, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hale caught four passes for 60 yards, averaging a team-best 15 yards per catch. Hale and the rest of IU’s receivers produced a very clean effort. No drops come to mind.

While Indiana’s defense finds its footing, the Hoosiers need their offense to provide a winning foundation. On Saturday, IU’s offense demonstrated it was up for that challenge.

2. The defense is very much a work in progress.
It wasn’t a good night for Tom Allen’s side of the ball, but there’s talent — and proven coaching — to believe the IU defense can improve.

For months, Allen has cautioned that this will be a young Hoosier defense. That was certainly the case Saturday, with IU rotating underclassmen onto the field at all levels of the defense early and often. On a steamy South Florida night, that was a necessity.

Still, it was an unfortunate opener for the defensive Hoosiers, who were gouged on the ground and struggled to put any pressure on FIU’s quarterbacks. There’s a lot of talent in Indiana’s secondary, but those defensive backs will need a boost from those up front before long. The linebackers, meanwhile, were mostly disappointing against the Panthers.

At the same time, with three takeaways, the Hoosiers found the kinds of game-changing plays that they lacked last season. There was more bad than good on the defensive side Saturday, but the takeaways were a hugely important development for a group that has strived to atone for the dearth of interceptions and fumble recoveries last season.

The next two weeks will be crucial for getting Indiana in position to adequately compete on that side of the ball come Big Ten season.

3. The newcomers are fun to watch.
The version of Michael Penix you saw Saturday was the same one that made the quarterback competition during fall camp much closer than many believed it might be.

The true freshman southpaw is a very, very impressive prospect.

But rather than instantly shoulder him with a starter’s workload, the Hoosiers seem intent on gradually introducing new and different aspects to him over the course of the season. Given the poise and passing ability Penix showed in his two series’ worth of work at FIU, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. While Peyton Ramsey did seem to have some more zip on his throws in his 2018 debut — and authored a very good season debut overall — it was noticeable how IU’s playcalling changed when Penix entered the game. On the second pass of his college career, Penix looked for Whop Philyor deep on a go route — the kind of play IU didn’t ask Ramsey to make all night.

Classmate Stevie Scott also impressed at running back when he helped the Hoosiers take over and kill the final 6:03 of regulation. True freshman Matt Bjorson worked his way into the mix at tight end with a 15-yard catch, while Reese Taylor did anything and everything asked of him on both sides of the ball. Another true freshman, safety Devon Matthews, recovered a fumble forced by Jonathan Crawford.

4. Reese Taylor is IU’s not-so-secret weapon.
Taylor, last year’s Indiana Mr. Football award winner, lined up at three positions for Indiana in his college debut — running back, slot and corner. Given that he’s also IU’s third quarterback, it’s not hard to imagine Taylor playing four positions in a game before the end of the season.

The Ben Davis product took his first collegiate touch 32 yards on a sweep that helped IU into FIU territory on its first scoring drive of the night. That play stood as Indiana’s longest run of the game — and an example of the natural playmaking talent that Taylor packs into his 5-foot-11, 184-pound frame.

Allen is clearly determined to use Taylor in any way he can, much to Indiana’s benefit.

WHAT’S NEXT: Virginia, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Memorial Stadium, BTN.
Virginia, picked to finish last in the Coastal Division in the ACC’s preseason poll, opened the season with a 42-13 win over Football Championship Subdivision outfit Richmond. The Cavaliers recorded 301 yards on the ground, the program’s highest rushing total in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s three seasons at the helm. The Hoosiers handled the Hoos, 34-17, last season in Charlottesville, Va., helping Allen to his first win as Indiana’s coach. IU opens as a 6.5-point favorite.

19 comments

  1. 2018 IU football team requires a learning curve. (true every year for most teams) An honest assessment of team will happen a couple games into big ten season. Virginia will be a good test. They have a higher level of players/recruits. Things that work and look really good against lower level teams don’t look as good against big ten east teams. This truly is what is relevant; IU football place in big ten east.

  2. Offense was a pleasant surprise. Defense is a bit worrisome but it will be interesting to see what adjustments are made. A stat I have commented on several times but nobody seems to pick up on are pass interference calls. We had 4 called on us. Riggons for 3 and Williams for one. Add 40 yards of offense to FIU’s stats and the defense looked even worse.

    1. In press man to man coverage those calls are more frequent than zone. FIU was only 17-28-1 for 157 and 1 TD. IU pass coverage worked well in the 1st game. Home many TD’s did close m/m stop? Riggons for sure will get the message about those violations this week.

  3. Clarification. 2 pass interference calls and two holding calls defending their receivers that are essentially the same. A total of 50 yards in penalties for those calls.

  4. I noticed that on the D side to, but the line has to put more pressure on the QB to force rushed throws and take heat off of the secondary and linebackers. It all starts in the trenches.

    1. You are on the money! The front 4 plus 2 LB’s have to pressure the opponent passer and occasionally drop runners for losses!

  5. Saw some very sad news on one of the tickers, looks like lost Cole Gest for the season to an ACL. Makes the RB situation more critical. Also noticed something weird on an ESPN posting that Ellison was a one game, did they get that one confused?

  6. The difference between Penix’s arm strength and Ramsey’s arm strength is significant. Ramsey’s arm does look stronger relative to last season, and he appeared to be confident in all of his throws, but as this article points out, IU’s only deep passes occurred when Penix was the QB. Ramsey is going to have to demonstrate that he can throw an accurate deep pass before IU gets into the Big Ten schedule, or Big Ten defenses are not going to respect the threat of a deep ball when Ramsey’s in the game, and Big Ten DBs will simply move up and crowd the intermediate passing zone. Installing Penix into the game when you want to go long will be like telling the opposing team what plays you’re about to run. But guys appear to be accurate passers, but Ramsey has to demonstrate that he can throw long, or IU might as well make Penix the starter.

    1. Po
      I going to take issue with your statement, “Installing Penix into the game when you want to go long will be like telling the opposing team what plays you’re about to run.” Wouldn’t be better said, “leaving Ramsey in the game will be like telling the opposing team what you can’t run.” With Penix in the game all options are on the table, including going deep. The problem for the PR apologists is that until he can prove capable of going deep when necessary, that option is something DCs will not show too much concern about. The inability to stretch the defense as much as possible vertically makes it a much easier game for the opponents.

      Not saying PR can’t do it effectively, just haven’t seen any examples yet. Everyone was worried about not opening up the offense last year, well part of that equation is the ability to strike from anywhere on the field. Keeping the D off balance is the key to offensive success, otherwise they just come at you without having to worry about very much.

      1. The EZ pass from PR to Hale was a 33 yd. frozen rope. No he can’t match the arm strength of Penix in a long ball contest. But he possesses a quick release and has the velocity to keep DB’s wary. These WR’s adjust and hunt for the ball. I don’t see an issue to exploit.

  7. That last sentence should read; “Both guys appear to be accurate passers, but Ramsey has to demonstrate that he can throw long, ……”

  8. Did anyone either at the game or on tv see how Cole Gest was injured? If he does in fact have a torn ACL, that is absolutely devastating news for both Gest and the team. Not that it makes much difference, but it would be interesting to know if he received a hit to the knee or if he just cut and had it tear. If the former, that’s just bad luck. If it’s the latter, then something must have happened in Cole’s strength training program, which wouldn’t be a confidence builder for the rest of the team.

    Ronnie Walker really needs to step up to his potential. I believe he was supposed to be more of a breakaway threat than Scott. If Walker is not good enough to play, the coaching staff may have to consider Scott and Taylor in the same backfield. Can Taylor carry the ball 15 times a game?

    1. It said in the article about the injury that an opposing player hit his knee while he was engaged in a block.

    2. No, but he can carry it 8-9 times, plus 8-9 passes to him, plus 3-4 QB plays. He is special! Plus a dynamite 3rd Corner for the games end! I love his gamr!

  9. I hate hearing the news about Gest as this is the third year in a row that IU loses a starting player to an ACL in the first game of the year.

    There was a lot to like with the offense against a defensive front with big 4 star talent at DT. The OL skeep the QBs clean but need to clean things up to be really good. The offense was spread out to include a number of players. The offense also featured a variety of plays keeping the defense off balanced. QBs looked good completing 75% against a good group 6 team. Ramsey moved well in the pocket and when he took off on pass plays. Penix looks very good and shows he can be a very good B1G QB. Our receivers caught the ball which is a big deal with the drops you usually see in games. Hale looks to be the real deal to add with Westbrook, Timian, Whop, and Fryfogle.

    Defensively the front four really need to improve and they have played better before so I expect they will show improvement against VA. Angles by defensive players are often not good in the first real game because practice really doesn’t replicate game speed. IU didn’t look good taking poor angles that should be better in the second game. LBs aren’t very good blitzers right now and we got spoiled by Scales and Covington with their blitzes.

    Still it was a good first win letting IU come home 1-0 with a chance to work on improving heading into the VA game.

  10. Special teams need some attention. FIU topped IU in avg. net punt yds. (+9) , avg. kickoff yds. (+3.5). Also, with the new “any fair catch inside the 25 yd. line is now a touchback” rule in force, why is anybody returning a kickoff from inside the 15 yd. line? Gotta think that the law of averages says fair catch it about 90% of the time. Which is what the rule was designed to do, apparently.

    1. J’Shaun is good for 1-2 brilliant returns, one a TD each year. It changes the game! Live on the “wild side”!

      1. A threat like him can buy a few yards in field position simply because opposing coaches will be concerned about outkicking their coverage with a guy like that back there.

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