Grading the Hoosiers at the midpoint

At the midpoint of the season, Indiana is where it needs to be.

Building on a solid first half will determine where the Hoosiers go from here.

There was plenty to like across the first six games of Tom Allen’s second season as coach, including the emergence of several young playmakers on both sides of the ball. There’s also plenty that Indiana needs to figure out across the final six Big Ten games if it’s to take a meaningful step forward down the stretch.

“What I’ve seen is segments come, segments shine, segments need work,” Allen said. “Now let’s get all three of those together, working in unison to create a team win.”

Overall, the Hoosiers earned a “B” grade through the first half of the year, satisfactorily meeting expectations and leaving room to grow.

Here’s how the Hoosiers’ positional units graded across the field through the first six games of the 2018 season:

OFFENSE
Quarterback B

Peyton Ramsey has, for the most part, provided a steady hand. He’s tough and respected by his peers, and he’s done a nice job limiting mistakes. His 11 touchdown passes rank second in the Big Ten and he has had five passes picked off in 211 attempts — the most throws of anyone in the league. It also remains to be seen just how high of a ceiling this offense has with him taking the snaps.

Ramsey has been very accurate in the short passing game, and began to open the downfield attack in earnest last week at Ohio State. But, as Pro Football Focus notes, only 18.6 percent of his drop backs have been graded positively. That ranks 12th out of the Big Ten’s 14 starters. Ramsey is also last in the Big Ten with an average depth of target of 7.5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Running back B-

The emergence of freshman Stevie Scott helped offset the losses of Morgan Ellison (suspension) and Cole Gest (ACL injury) early in the season. Scott ranks fourth among conference running backs with 528 yards this season.

The run game hasn’t been as successful during conference play. IU ranks 12th in the league with only 92.0 yards per game against league opposition. Scott’s classmate, Ronnie Walker, has also flashed the potential to help IU gain traction on the ground during the second half of the year.

Receiver B+

There haven’t been many glaring drops from those in this group. J-Shun Harris has done an outstanding job of filling in for injured teammates Luke Timian and Whop Philyor, each of whom could be back on the field soon. Nick Westbrook, meanwhile, is starting to surface more regularly on the outside. Over his past two games, Westbrook has nine catches for 171 yards with one touchdown. Ty Fryfogle has been a steady complement and tight end Peyton Hendershot is making a case for more targets.

Indiana needs to be more aggressive in trusting these receivers to make one-on-one plays downfield. Last week was a step in the right direction, but the development of the offense depends in large part on that downfield dimension remaining a consistent part of the attack.

Offensive line C

It’s been a mixed bag up front for the Hoosiers, who started slow in the season opener, steadied themselves in the final two non-conference games, then struggled again as Big Ten season began.

It feels like this group is in a better place now than last year, but that hasn’t always shown on the field. Depth up front is OK, but not great. The Hoosiers have shown potential on the line, both in terms of pass blocking and opening holes for Scott and company. Doing so consistently remains a hurdle IU has yet to cross.

DEFENSE
Defensive line C+

The Hoosiers need to develop more of a pass rush for the defense to grow. It would also go a long way toward taking pressure off a young secondary in the second half of the season.

At times, this unit has played very well. Teaming with the linebackers, the Hoosiers are showing signs of playing more physical against the run. IU ranks fourth in both average per carry allowed (3.4 yards) and average rushing yards per game allowed (127.6 yards) in Big Ten play.

Linebackers B

Given the personnel losses here, IU’s linebackers have done an admirable job so far. Reakwon Jones has been among the most impressive players on the field, while hybrid defender Marcelino Ball has occupied a critical role in connecting the front end of the defense to the back. Dameon Willis’ decision to return has also boosted the group.

The Hoosiers have gotten burned a couple times, but it’s fair to say their linebackers are meeting Allen’s high expectations for the position.

Secondary B

The Hoosiers have at least one interception in every game this year and are doing a fairly nice job against the pass, especially considering the youth rotating into the defensive backfield. Mistakes are being made, but IU is laying a solid foundation.

Safety Jonathan Crawford continues to give IU a much-needed steady presence on the back end.

Special teams A-

Moving on from two-time Big Ten kicker of the year Griffin Oakes has, for the most part, been a smooth transition. Walk-on Logan Justus beat scholarship freshman Charles Campbell for the job and looks reliable inside the 40-to-45-yard range.

J-Shun Harris gives IU a weapon on punt returns and punter Haydon Whitehead has been solid.

20 comments

  1. Ramsey is also last in the Big Ten with an average depth of target of 7.5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

    Yikes…Does that deserve a passing passing grade?

    What grade would you give “breakthrough?”

  2. MM- very good article (again). I wish you also gave the coaches a grade. How much of Ramsey’s target depth of only 7.5 yards is a Mike DeBord issue and not on Ramsey?

  3. IU is a team that needs to improve each game. We knew there would be weaknesses and despite hoping someone would step up to eliminate those weaknesses I have to say the team is in good shape at this point of the season. There is a lot more the team needs to do IE offense being as productive in the second half as the first half. The defense needs to get better at blitzing and pressuring the QB; they have been making strides but still far short of what is needed.

    The QB spot is what it is when you have a QB that ranks in the bottom 1/3 of the league. For whatever reason coaches are unwilling to burn Penix’s red-shirt so we haven’t seen him enough to know if he is better than Ramsey. The little we have seen him though indicates he would be better and with experience would be more dangerous to defenses than Ramsey.

    1. V13,
      The scenario you paint is what worries me the most. How patient will Penix be? With what we have seen thus far we have strong suspicions that he could be very good. The problem for TA and a few other I won’t mention, is if our suspicions are true, there are a lot of other programs around the country in need of good QB talent too. I can think of several programs that could be lurking out there that would be inclined to try and poach him from IU.

      I can’t think of anything worse than for a player like Penix leave IU and become very successful elsewhere. I am thinking about 1 ACC school in particular where this could happen and their current coach is an opportunist of the first order.

    1. H4H,
      I for sure wouldn’t want to take that chance without finding out for sure. Would at least want to burn one year finding out what for sure. That way if he does get poached they don’t get 4 years.

  4. Being rather cynical, if you burn his red shirt season this year, Penix is slightly less attractive to a coach that may covet him. But remember, another coach cannot recruit him if he’s on scholarship with IU. Doing so is a major no-no and would result in a massive NCAA penalty and the coach responsible being fired. But if Penix’s Dad/Mom were to start making calls, that could open Pandora’s Box.

    T.A. needs to play the guy in at least one more game. He’s still got one game left before he burns his redshirt, so why not put him in and give him more experience. Penix must be frustrated knowing that he’s bot better arm talent and is a better runner than Ramsey. Will he be patient? In his mind, he’s behind a guy who has two more years of eligibility remaining after this season. Does T.A. expect him to wait for two more years to become the starter?

  5. Any redshirt talk for MP is 100% nonsense. Whenever PR shows sign of big down MP should be in game. Two times in a row second half of OSU game after defensive plays IU offense went nowhere on short field. Second half of big ten games including Rut are ineffective after opponents adjust defense and that is after missed deeper (not that deep) passes in first half. IU hopes lifted up then dropped down as game wears on. Instead of red shirt talk for MP play MP now when needed just a little and go out and recruit another couple qbs (quality) over the next two or three years. It is tiring and frustrating to continue to hear that PR is a quality big ten qb sales job.

  6. Unfortunately, talk of Penix bailing out if he does not get playing time soon, or at least this year, makes sense. The IUs of the college football world can really only offer one thing to HS superstars, and that’s the chance to shine right away rather than ride pine behind other several other HS superstars clogging up the sidelines of the OSUs of the college football world. If Allen plays Penix now and he’s clearly superior to Ramsey, then obviously (or at least it would seem obvious) he should be the dude. If he’s not ready for prime time, then not only is the continued back-up role justified, he’s exposed as not ready to the eyes of any would-be poachers out there.

  7. ^^^Now there is some excellent reasoning. If you have major talent and you can’t play out of the gate at IU, then it has to be discouraging. That’s the whole damn reason you pick Indiana Football.
    Are we actually more afraid of Ramsey transferring? Seriously?

  8. Most of this talk makes it sound like a bad thing for Penix to be redshirted.

    As a parent, I would have loved for the schools to pay another year’s expenses for my kids.

    Being redshirted is a gift.

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