4 things we learned from IU’s win at Rutgers

1. There are differing, understandable emotions entering October.

It’s OK to be concerned. It’s equally acceptable to be optimistic. Although the past two weeks have offered uneven results, including a disappointing loss to Michigan State and a close call at Rutgers, the most important thing is this: IU is positioned appropriately.

Indiana coach Tom Allen reminded his players of exactly that immediately after Saturday’s win in New Jersey.

“Guess what, men?” Allen said in the visitors locker room at HighPoint.com Stadium. “You boys are 4-1. 4-1! 4-1! Yes sir! Hard-earned 4-1. 4-1! Let that sink in a little bit.”

Before the season began, mapping a navigable course to the postseason looked exactly like this — an undefeated three-game non-conference run and a victory at lowly Rutgers. Getting off to such a start was hugely important for this team, and IU managed to follow through.

At the same time, the past two weeks have opened old wounds. Is this offensive line mean enough to win battles in the Big Ten? Is the offense as aggressive as it should be?

And while a win is a win, style points meant something in a game against Rutgers, maybe the worst Power 5 football team in the country. For one half, IU was in control and looked the part of a team asserting its will over a lesser foe. The Hoosiers were able to take what they wanted offensively, whether through the air or on the ground, and built a sizable — and important, as it turned out — 24-7 halftime lead. They also flashed some nifty gadget plays, which were nice to see. (Though bringing those out against Rutgers also begged the question: where were they last week?)

The defense, meanwhile, steadied itself nicely after a tough opening possession.

But IU seemed to get too conservative in the second half, allowing Rutgers to play it even across the final 30 minutes. During that span, the Hoosiers only out-gained the Scarlet Knights 159-157, while the home team scored 10 points off two Indiana turnovers.

Ultimately, IU did enough to hold on.

During a young season that has seen Rutgers get absolutely spanked in the month of September, only Indiana and Texas State have gone an entire half without scoring on the Scarlet Knights. That’s not company the Hoosiers ought to keep.

On the other hand, IU is on the right track. Saturday marked the first time Indiana has won its first Big Ten road game since Sept. 29, 2007, when the Hoosiers topped Iowa, 38-20. This is also the first time since 2007 that IU has won its first two road games overall.

Do you know what else happened in 2007? That was the last time Indiana finished with a winning record.

It’s fair to pick at the emerging flaws of this IU team. If uncorrected, they could spell trouble for Indiana as the season continues. But it’s also important to appreciate the moment. Indiana is off to the start it needed, making it possible to cling to optimism that this IU team, too, might cross the winning threshold.

2. Young Hoosier defenders continue to impress.

Tom Allen has to be pleased with the early returns from his freshman class. The playmaking ability of those newcomers is particularly visible on defense, where Indiana received another strong effort from its rookies on Saturday.

Corner Jaylin Williams and safety Devon Matthews each posted a co-team-high five tackles. Williams also notched his first career sack.

Then there was defensive back Jamar Johnson, whose second-quarter interception in the end zone killed what had been an efficient Rutgers drive prior to halftime. Johnson finished the work started by sophomore Raheem Layne, who nearly intercepted a pass on the previous play.

Johnson’s adaptability is something to behold. His interception came while playing hybrid safety, a position where he was near the bottom of the depth chart days earlier. And that’s not an indictment on Johnson. Rather, it speaks to depth IU has cultivated on the back end, and the fact that Indiana is using Johnson all over its secondary.

Johnson can play all five secondary spots, and on Saturday he stepped up in a key moment. First he got the pick, then he got the game ball.

3. The running game operated in starts and stops.

Indiana had two defined offensive goals for Saturday’s game: establish the run and open the downfield passing attack. IU made strides toward accomplishing the latter. The former didn’t always come so easy.

Indiana out-rushed Rutgers, 163-98, on Saturday, though 58 percent of that production came on five plays. IU had some success with designed runs for quarterback Peyton Ramsey, while athlete Reese Taylor turned a reverse — on which his first option appeared to be a wheel route pass to running back Mike Majette — into a 19-yard run deep into Rutgers territory.

Freshman starter Stevie Scott, meanwhile, averaged only 3.2 yards per carry, picking up 58 yards on 18 handoffs. Scott was able to find the end zone, however, on a 16-yard sprint to the outside.

Ronnie Walker continues to show some intriguing burst, and posted one explosive run of 19 yards.

After two conference games against Michigan State and Rutgers, IU ranks 12th among Big Ten teams in rushing offense with 96 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.

4. J-Shun Harris is more than a punt returner.

With Luke Timian and Whop Philyor, IU’s two top options in the slot, out this week, Harris accomplished all he could to replace their production.

In doing so, the senior matched his career high with seven receptions for 54 yards. He also scored on a two-yard catch in the second quarter that marked his first receiving touchdown since his freshman year in 2014.

From the first few practices of this year’s fall camp, it was clear that Harris could impact the Hoosiers in more ways than merely returning punts. Across the past two weeks, that’s been the case.

Harris has totaled 13 catches for 96 yards in IU’s first two Big Ten contests of the year. That’s the most productive back-to-back offensive stretch for Harris since he caught nine passes for 111 yards and two scores against Bowling Green and Missouri four seasons ago.

WHAT’S NEXT: No. 3 Ohio State, Saturday, 4 p.m., at Ohio Stadium, FOX.

The Buckeyes emerged victorious from their heavyweight battle at No. 11 Penn State on Saturday night, improving to 5-0 on the season.

With 10 consecutive wins dating to November 2017, Ohio State has the second longest winning streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Indiana opened the week as 27-point underdogs.

Saturday will be homecoming in Columbus, Ohio.

32 comments

  1. Taken as a snapshot IUFB has had a good season. The issue though is a football season is a progression and even though many IU fans understand the limitations of this team it appears the offense isn’t improving. I hope the second half of Rutgers was just the aftermath of the MSU struggle and not an indication of how the offense is trending. IU was without a number of key players on offense but having Harris mitigated the loss of available slots by showing he is a quality receiver.

    It is nice to have IU 4-1 but the season schedule is tougher with little room for mistakes if IU is to have a winning season.

    1. The remaining schedule is brutal for the Hoosiers. I think they’ll be a slight favorite in two of the remaining seven games. Although I still think six of the seven are atleast winnable (I’m not saying they’re going to win six of the next seven, they’re just winnable games IMO), the odds of the Hoosiers going bowling are probably even money right now. There are no easy games remaining. Not that there ever is lol.

  2. I think IU treated the second half offensively to simply work on their vanilla (didn’t show anything) running game. IU treated it like a practice.

  3. So far, IU has only beaten the teams they were supposed to beat. They are supposed to beat 3 more- Purdue, Maryland and Minnesota, according to Football Outsiders. Those teams are similar to IU- talented but flawed. Like IU, all are ranked in the 50’s. The problem is that Rutgers was ranked 115. So does the Rutgers’s game lead you to believe that IU will meet expectations or under-perform? FYI- if these games will be decided by coaching, IU relies on the lowest paid staff in the Big Ten to come up with the answers.

  4. Just thinking how focused Allen operates in improving this program I’m certain this week the offensive staff in general and the OC in particular are feeling the heat with strong directives he has issued to them for the upcoming game and season. Clearly he’s not overjoyed with the unproductive lapses of the offense and just as clearly he likes PR’s play at QB means there is only 1 bunch he is going to put the whip to. I sure hope he is SOB enough to force success down somebody’s throat.

  5. HC, I hope you are right and to this point coach Allen has made the tough choices to improve the team. Something needs to change in a hurry and at the end of the season if it doesn’t then changes need to be made. It would be great to see the offense make a big jump and perform in a way that stresses defenses.

    1. V13,
      I don’t believe anyone could disagree with you that something needs to change in a hurry. The problem I see is the offense is very easy to defend because it’s limitations make it very one dimensional. Essentially it is nothing more than a running offense. Even the passing game is not much more than an extension of the running game. With no downfield threat, defenses can basically treat everything pass or run pretty much the same way. You can crowd the LOS all you want with no fear of anything getting behind you.

      The non conference opponents were all suspect defensively compared to B1G standards, but it won’t be that way in conference nearly as much. MSU showed the way to defend IU and Rutgers just followed their path. The slants, seam routes, and the dink and dunk passing game will only work for so long. The only way an offense can be opened up is to have all options on the table. Without a legitimate downfield threat you can only open up your offense so far.

      The lack of a downfield threat has been the obvious problem from the very beginning. IU doesn’t have a dominate offensive line and the lack of an unpredictable offensive strategy only makes their job tougher. IU has a couple good young running backs and pretty good set of receivers, but the talent level is not there yet across the board. The biggest equalizer going against more talented teams is being unpredictable. How can you be unpredictable when a major element of that equation (the downfield threat) is already off the table before the game begins?

      I think you and I are of the same mindset on this. We don’t have to prove our point, the way the opponents are defending IU’s offense is proving it for us.

    2. v13, also kinda think I see a changing of the hierarchy in the RB depth chart. To me MSU and RU have exposed Scott behind our underachieving OL as possibly not our best option to start. Walker is advancing quickly. Runs with that quick up shift in speed much like Gest. I’ll bet bet a hot fudge malt he’s the starter by the PSU game.

      1. In a monsoon,
        Stevie goes vroom! vroom!
        But when it is dry,
        Why is he coming up shy?

        Against a cupcake,
        To the house Ramsey will take.
        But against the Big Ten,
        We’re left asking when.

        Hoosier football in any September,
        Tis the month our wins remember.
        But when the air begins to chill,
        Don’t look to winter to find a thrill.

        Fill in a name to fill in the day,
        Seems it always ends this way.
        Chants of ‘better next year’ now appear,
        Kavanaugh hasn’t time to finish first beer!

  6. I agree that IU has hardly no downfield threat. I expect IU to show things this game unseen before and will go more downfield.
    I also feel OSU will play somewhat conservative.

    1. t,
      They are going to have to show thing not seen so far. If not, the game will be over before the end of the 1st quarter.

      1. I don’t care about OSU! Play hard. Don’t have injuries. Rest key players. Learn and improve. Then recharge and beat IA!

  7. To play devil’s advocate a bit….Do slants, seam routes, and dunk and dinks (by the way, ‘Dunken Dinks’ should have been the new name adopted by Dunken Donuts) take any skill to execute? Can an offense be just as limited if a qb has timing problems or accuracy issues with short-arm stuff(touch)?
    Could be possible that Allen has witnessed (via practice) Penix having issues touch passes, decisions under pressure, and timing patterns? Simply having a big arm doesn’t make a standout qb.

    Would I have loved to see more of Penix in the first five games? Definitely. But let’s not completely disregard the fact his game may also have some glaring weaknesses and limitations assessed by a coaching staff more qualified to understand them. You win most football games with balance and strength on both sides of the ball and all aspects of a playbook. Hell, some backs can’t even catch a screen pass…or the ‘dunken dink’ stuff. e.g. Many fans of the Chicago Bears have heard how much more versatile Jordan Howard has become because he has worked to have better hands and better execution skills as a compact receiver option. But don’t kid yourself….Those short timing passes aren’t always as simple as the invention of silly lingo to discount and describe them. Many qb’s don’t throw the ball where it needs to be on crossing patterns and it often leaves a receiver placing himself in very vulnerable positions where hard legal hits are more possible.
    For all the criticism of Ramsey, his short game(marginalized because it’s not showy)is pretty impressive.

  8. Missing Luke and Whop this week certainly hurt IU’s offense, but what hurts it most is the conscious choice to play so “safe,” and not throw the ball down field. You either have confidence in your offense, or you don’t. If DeBord does not have confidence that the offense can throw down field, or score points after IU gets a significant lead, or if he is so afraid that his offense will commit turnovers and forfeit the lead, then his fear is a major problem because it transfers on to his players. Just like when you choose not to exercise certain muscles, those muscles shrink and weaken and become worthless. If IU starts attempting to throw deep downfield in the sixth game of the season, against OSU, it’s probably not going to work out too well. The offense has not used that muscle all season long, or really, since Ramsey became a starter last year. Maybe, since no one believes IU can beat OSU this week, they’ll start exercising that muscle Saturday so that they can use it again through the remainder of the season. DeBord has nothing to lose, so unless he lacks confidence in Ramsey’s ability to throw down field, why hold back? It’s his choice.

    1. Po,
      You just framed the million dollar question, is the problem that DeBord doesn’t have confidence that the offense can throw the ball down field or is he afraid his offense will commit turnovers? If he is afraid of the turnovers, you have the wrong OC. If he doesn’t have confidence that his offense can thrown the ball downfield, then he is doing the best he can with the hand he has been dealt. Our problem is TA doesn’t seem to desire to give us enough information to make that determination.

      Without something else to compare this question to, there is no way to make the determination. It is patently obvious the offense can’t open up without throwing downfield. OSU is the perfect opportunity to test this, because as far as the outcome of the game is concerned, IU doesn’t have anything to lose but everything to gain. If PR can throw the ball downfield, then turn him loose and let’s see what he can do. If you don’t, OSU is too good, either way you are going to lose the ballgame. Offensively, the only chance you have is to open it up, and that means going downfield every chance you can.

      If PR can’t go downfield effectively, then you have to put someone in there who can. Otherwise if you continue to play the dink and dunk game, you’re going to get what playmakers you have hurt. OSU’s defensive playmakers are going to just sit back and unload on our guys every time you try to go down the seam or across the middle. I really want to see TA succeed because I think his story would reflect in a tremendous way for IUFB. However, if the game plan is more of the same, which is in effect just hoping to not get embarrassed, then we’ve got the wrong guy for head coach.

  9. I have been such an Allen supporter and will continue, but to see he was quoted as telling the team it was alright, we are 4 and 1…it kind of struck me as odd. If he chewed some butt and then did that, perhaps I’m ok with it. I mean, Rutgers is AWFUL and to be that stagnant in the 2nd half is scary. I also read today that he is not worried about the offensive line, they just need more consistency….what??? It also bothers me that Penix did not play the 2nd half…perfect and I mean perfect game to test him out. Let’s me know he probably will red shirt which is alright…but, we need a QB that can throw the ball down field as others have stated. Allen might not be, but I’m worried!

  10. dunkendinkaboutit!

    Englebert Dumperdinck offense? Maybe Ramsey has a “release” issue more than an arm issue…? Proper release can easily add 10-15 yards to a pass.

    1. H4H,
      You “released,” a very interesting point, but if I am not mistaken those problems are usually correctable. If that was the problem, would have thought that would have been corrected by now Jester.

      1. Only say so because, at times, it appears he makes strong throws….And then you’ll see a wounded duck. Not saying he’ll ever possess a true cannon, but I see some inconsistencies that could be mechanics/grip/release issues. Lack of proper balance in the feet and less than optimal weight transference could also cause issues with strong throws.

        I think some of it could be fixed….

  11. T.A. knows more than what he conveys. T.A. is trying to be positive and build positive culture by love for his players (will want to play hard for him). However, it contradicts what he has said earlier the goal is to make a big ten championship team and playing Penix. Who knows, Penix may appear against OSU. Yes, I read where he put positive spin on 4 and 1 record to team. Sounds happy to be 4 and 1. (as he should be). Is he ignoring how bad IU is playing and competition level? Sounds a little like Bill Lynch and others. I don’t think so. T.A. as high school head coach record was something like 27 wins and 16 losses and no championships. Remember Gerry Faust at ND? His high school record was impeccable. However, T.A. had some competent defensive coordinator experience on college level before IU job. Plus so far percentage wise T.A. is above water in overall winning percentage at above 500 percent. That equals one of the more winning percentages in IU football history. Will T.A. remain above 500 winning percentage after this season?

    1. 25-12 in his three year stint at Ben Davis. Five of those loses were to Warren Central who also won the state title all three of those years. Those Warren Central teams were some of the best high school football teams that Indiana has ever seen.

  12. A good leader never criticizes his/her subordinates in public. So I’m O.K. with T.A. keeping it positive when speaking to the press. But T.A. had better be telling his offensive coaching staff that Saturday’s performance was not acceptable. He’d better be concerned and telling DeBord to fix the problems that continues to limit our offensive production. If not, T.A.’s going to wake up in mid-December and wonder what happened to his second season as IU’s head coach.

    I wonder if T.A. is aware of the extent to which IU football’s limited fan base was not impressed or happy with Saturday’s performance against Rutgers?

  13. I wouldn’t think that would concern him. Rather, I would think his concern is implementing his vision for program.

  14. The big issue is we haven’t seen enough of Penix to know if he can do a better job than Ramsey. If the coaches are going to red-shirt Penix then that is why we don’t see him in games as they want to save him in case he is needed late in the season. I disagree with this approach as I don’t think it lets IU’s best QB earn the position. Coach Allen clearly sees Ramsey as the QB he wants for this year but that concerns me based on the little we have see of Penix. Penix has shown the spark that Ramsey seems to be missing but that may be to the little work Penix has done so far.

    Thinkaboutit and HC you have both hit the nail on the head. HC I hope Walker gets more carries as he is a different talent than Scott and compliments each other.

  15. Redshirt for Penix should be a non issue. If he is the best you got he should play. Go out and recruit another qb in meantime to replace Penix. The only way Penix should be red shirted is that he is not good enough. Then, how about next year? The following year? Who will it be? I see potential qb problems in that scenario.

  16. t, my point is that unless T.A.’s team starts to create some excitement and confidence amongst the Hoosier Nation and increase attendance at home games, he’s not going to be able to recruit the talent necessary to “implement his vision for the program.” It’s going to take better fan support to increase attendance and to attract better talent, and it’s going to take better talent to implement his vision (of winning seasons) for the program. I watched the Rutgers game with a half dozen IU alumni on Saturday. At the end of the game, no one in the room was excited or happy. I’d say relief and frustration were the two feelings that people expressed. One of my friends summarized it for the group when he said, “well, that’s not going to get it done, but at least we didn’t lose the game.”

  17. I agree. Whatever it looks like if you win enough they will come. Vision, players playing, coaching, recruiting, winning vs losing, attendance, etc. it all goes hand in hand that is all a part of the recipe and how it all turns out.

  18. 6 of 7 winnable games remaining? Maybe Maryland, Minny, Iowa, Purdue? But, honestly, barring better play than what we’ve seen the last two weeks, I think that’s reduced to no better than Minny and Maryland, with the former on the road.

    I don’t think we’ll be able to keep up offensively against Purdue. They’ll flat out outscore us. Iowa’s at home so that helps a tad, but dicey at best. I mean those teams aren’t powerhouses, but you have to take our pre-conference schedule difficulty into account and our early competition/performance in B1G play into account. We have not impressed in either, and the run gave has completely evaporated against the latter. Not a good sign.

    Yes, it’s only two games to bowl contention, but this 4-1 record is extremely rickety. Far from inspiring confidence.

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