Defense stands out despite loss in Cream and Crimson game

Bryant Fitzgerald won’t get a steak dinner this week. James Miller won’t either.

Fitzgerald, Miller and the rest of Indiana’s defense will settle for the consolation meal after the offense won Friday’s annual Cream and Crimson game, 48-33.

“We’re gonna be eating our beans and weenies,” Miller said.

But forget the final score. On this night, it was a meaningless tally — dinner aside. Although the offense led on the scoreboard, the defense was the more impressive unit.

Part of that, of course, is by design. First-year offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, just like the majority of his colleagues across the country, stuck to mere base concepts in the spring game. Indiana’s offense had only one fully-healthy scholarship quarterback — returning starter Peyton Ramsey — and the IU offense relied on a flurry of field goals to accumulate a chunk of its winning total.

But the defense? The defense looked the part of a young, talented unit on the rise.

The Hoosiers forced three takeaways, recorded multiple three-and-outs and resembled the fast and athletic platoon that head coach Tom Allen has promised to make the hallmark of his tenure in Bloomington. It was merely a spring game, and making sweeping generalizations from such exhibition scenarios is often unwise. But in its final full-team workout of the spring on Friday, IU illustrated the kind of defensive potential it has in 2019.

“We kept it pretty simple,” Allen said. “We didn’t bring a lot of pressures, (or) a lot of movements up front. Just letting the guys get their eyes right, get their feet set and play football. Just the speed that we have as a team, the depth that we have, the ones and twos come in there on defense and nothing really changes at all with the level of execution and level of speed to the football. That’s what we’ve got to have.”

Last season, youth and inexperience were the primary reasons why the Hoosiers dropped from 27th nationally in total defense in 2017 to 83rd. On its defensive depth chart, Indiana had 12 players who were either freshmen or sophomores seeing meaningful reps by the end of November.

The Hoosiers were both opportunistic — their 26 takeaways tied for second in the Big Ten — and sloppy, riding the ebbs and flows that come in tandem with a young defense. Yet, the potential of several underclassman defenders — players such as Miller and Micah McFadden at linebacker, and Fitzgerald, Cam Jones and Devon Matthews in the defensive backfield — was clear last fall.

It was also visible on Friday.

McFadden started the second quarter with impressive awareness, stripping the football from running back Ahrod Lloyd. Noah Pierre, who Allen named IU’s most improved defender of the spring, pounced on the recovery to give the defense five quick points.

Redshirt freshman walk-on linebacker Robert Tolbert IV forced another first-half fumble that was recovered by cornerback Jamar Johnson.

And a second-half interception by corner A’Shon Riggins broke a 22-22 tie and boosted the defense to a 27-22 advantage.

“Our defense is a takeaway-driven team,” Allen said. “That’s what we emphasize, and we attack that football. That’s what our guys did tonight.”

The offense had several good moments, too. Peyton Ramsey tossed a perfectly-placed 39-yard touchdown pass that hit receiver Ty Fryfogle in stride as he crossed the goal line for a second-quarter touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Michael Penix also got some work in 7-on-7 drills, and after completing only three of his first 10 throws, the left-hander went 5-for-5 for 69 yards and a 19-yard touchdown strike to receiver Miles Marshall during the second half.

Under DeBoer, the Hoosiers want an offense capable of authoring explosive plays with regularity. There were a few on Friday, even with two of IU’s top playmakers, receivers Nick Westbrook and Whop Philyor, sitting out for precautionary reasons. Utah transfer quarterback Jack Tuttle also missed Friday’s game due to an illness.

“I want that ball thrown down the field,” Allen said. “We’ve got some big receivers that do a good job tracking the ball and bodying people up and going and getting it. And that will not change. We just need to continue to make it a focus which we have and that is not going to change.

“I want us to have the best summer we ever had with our quarterbacks and receivers and their work and really challenge them and set up some new structures with that to help us with it, with the timing of it all. We have three quarterbacks that we feel have very strong attributes and we want to get ready.”

Meanwhile, Allen is also focused on installing a defense that is ready to form IU’s back bone in the fall. Some things have changed since the end of last season, particularly in leadership. After juggling both the head coach and coordinator duties during his first two seasons, Allen is delegating the coordinator job to linebackers coach Kane Wommack this fall.

“With Coach Kane (Wommack) taking over, there was a lot of different stuff that we changed, but the concept was still there, just with different tweaks,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought that we handled those adjustments really well out there and it showed with the confidence we were playing with at times, the speed we were playing with at times. Whenever you’re confident, you can play with more speed. I just thought we did a really good job (on Friday).”

Indeed, that’s the kind of reward Indiana’s defense can take from the annual spring scrimmage, steak dinner or not.

“I was pleased with (the) assignments,” Allen said. “(We) didn’t have a lot of space to work in offensively because the defense was where they were supposed to be for the most part and tackled pretty well.”

51 comments

  1. MM I agree the D looked fast and improved with several results oriented performers but the offense utilizing 6-7th string RB’s, 1 QB along with no Whop, Nick or Cronk were undoubtedly handicapped as the offense naturally gels more slowly than the D. The performance of the offense in 1 scrimmage executing pretty tame play calling under DeBoer showed more promise than all 24 games called by DeBord. Finally plays calling for passes down the field were called. Just as Allen has wanted for 2 years. The future is now brighter on both sides of the ball.

  2. As I watched the Spring game I was impressed at how fast and hard hitting the defense was. They weren’t perfect but they did play hard and were fast. The back seven smothered receivers most of the night making throws hard to complete.

    Penix looked very good moving around and Gest looked very fast and recovered from his ACL injury.

    Offensively it was hard to really know how it will be with so many held out. Ramsey looked bigger and stronger but he has some of the same issues from last year. I think his arm is strong enough if coach DeBoer is able to work around his weakness. Ramsey hit some good passes including deep passes but missed seeing any seem routes that really punish secondaries.

    Watching OSU and Nebraska, I can say that IU looked as good as either and better than Nebraska’s offense. Fields didn’t look very good passing the ball in the OSU game but did run the ball well. I came away from IU’s effort thinking IU could be a surprise team this year. A number of fans seem to think IU will win four games and it looks like there is the talent to win enough games to have a winning record. Of course, until we see the team against B1G teams it is hard to know how good our talent is.

    1. V13- after which spring game have you thought IU looked slower, less physical or not talented enough for a winning record? Personally, I’m not buying in again until they prove it on the field. Fool me once, shame on you; but fool me 11 years in a row?

      1. 123, I get your point and agree that we won’t know for sure until the first three games of the season. This Spring game the speed was more noticeable to me than previous years along with the increase in size being more evident. The defense closed on tackles faster than before and I saw bigger hits that in previous teams. Don’t forget Cam Jones was called for a big hit against Michigan and he is just one of the young players that deliver a big blow when tackling.

        1. Team speed was undeniable Friday night. Ramsey was faster. To me he also looked smaller. It had to be the contrast with the surrounding cast. In the 7 on 7 Cole Gest looked blazing fast.

          1. Ramsey looked faster last year too. But his rushing yards show he’s no Trace Mcsorley. All I’m saying is you can’t really judge overall changes when IU is playing IU. If Juan Harris runs down Whop Philyor, ok, I’m impressed. Otherwise, too hard to tell.

  3. Perhaps Ramsey’s greatest ability will be his availability.

    Has he ever thrown a 39-yard touchdown pass before? Two questions: 1) how far did it travel in the air, and 2) was the wind at his back?

      1. HC,
        Whether or not the wind was at his back is extremely relevant. A slow moving floating pass can easily move further if wind aided. I’ve seen something as powerful as a short field goal kick blown back in the right amount of wind and a kick is normally much more powerful than a throw. So wind is very, very relevant particularly when we are talking about Ramsey.

        The question for Ramsey is at what velocity does the ball arrive to the receiver at distances beyond twenty yards. There is a whole lot of difference defensively if that ball is coming at 30 mph versus 40 or more mph. The ball may cover the distance even at 30 mph, but the defense has much more reaction time than it would if the ball were traveling at 40 plus mph. You can be a very accurate passer, but if the velocity is not there on the deeper throws, the QB becomes easy pickings because the defense has more reaction time.

        It is very obvious Ramsey does not have velocity which is why he has so many picks despite being reasonably accurate. Which is also why an upgrade at the QB position is the determining factor if IU is win more ballgames.

        1. …as irrelevant as if the wind was in his face…the pass was completed for a TD…I’m well aware no one wants to believe he can make a play like that…

          1. It’s not whether or not he could make that play, spoiler alert, he did. The question is whether he can consistently make that play. 3 years of history plus a bad interception during the spring game says he can’t.

          2. Precisely the point 123, precisely the point.

            While past performance is not a guarantee of future results . . . you know the rest.

  4. It was a great read and a nice throw but the ball floated downfield. I don’t know distance but it was the typical Ramsey throw- a lot of air underneath. TA is saying he wants a QB that can complete longer passes. I think that is setting the stage for either Penix or Tuttle to start.

    1. I hope you are right 123,

      If you’re not, regarding the starting QB in the fall, I don’t see the results being much different that the last two seasons. That pass yesterday is no different than a number of similar passes we saw last fall. You may get away with it once or twice, but B1G defenses will adjust to it quickly and the number of int’s will rise. We also saw the int’s quite frequently last year as well as defenses quickly adjusted. The only thing you can do with a QB with a weak arm is to compensate with the short passing game, which winds up getting your receivers beat up badly. Which we also saw last fall.

      DeBoer has apparently inherited two options which DeBord never had, Penix (based on H4H’s assessment) and Tuttle. If we see PR as the starting QB again this year and the results are the same, time for a new HC. On the other hand if TA & DeBoer do what I think they will do, PR will be number 3 on the depth chart.

    2. You need to see the video again, maybe more than once to post something accurate about the pass.

    3. I think you either didn’t watch it of you didn’t realize how far it was. I just went back and watched it again. 48 yards in the air right on the money. And I wouldn’t say it floated either. I don’t think it could have been thrown any better. I will say, that the WR toasted the DB and it was certainly a throw you’d hope your QB could make. Now I’m not trying to bang the drum for Ramsey here, I’m Team Penix all the way (atleast until I can get a read on Tuttle) but that pass was money.

        1. Yup over the course of 2 seasons he’s thrown 29 TD’s. Ramsey didn’t earn a 1. They were all gifts.

          1. Well HC,
            If you throw the ball 600 times over that same 2 year period, by the law of averages you’re bound to get a TD every once in a while. Yards per attempt still at or near the bottom of the B1G in 6 ypa range. Take a look at the other B1G QBs with that number of throws in the last two years. A lot more TD production.

          2. Friday night under the play calling of a legitimate, competent OC PR’s average yards per pass was + 11 yd. against a quality pass defending backfield. Based on the passing yardage # of 270 which most everyone has suggested as the approximate game total.

          3. PR is a good tough kid, but unless the S&C program has worked a miracle, he simply does not have a B1G caliber arm. There is a problem for those who dislike someone so much that they would invest themselves so heavily in probable mediocre talent. So much so, that unless PR performs extremely well this year they will have to admit their error, but in some cases I doubt they ever would make such an admission. If PR is not the starter or the results with him at QB are no different then the last two years it becomes undeniable that the problem the last two years was a QB talent deficiency, not the former OC.

          4. Never in 24 games did the timid former OC call a game prioritizing downfield play as as seen Friday night. The 39 yd. TD pass(50 in the air)was called and executed. Ramsey is better than last year and DeBoer has the easy path in being way, way more proficient owning an offense than Debord ever could be. Now if the other 2 QB’s can beat Ramsey out for the starts then I’ll be equally satisfied. But it will take more skills than just the easy to observe velocity on the ball thrown.

          5. Even a cat gets tired of playing with a mouse when it’s obvious it doesn’t have anything left. So I got tired of toying with the mouse.

  5. Agree with Po. “Ramsey’s greatest ability is his availability.” That will be his legacy. Like sandlot football, put me in coach. IU football will always have an available qb in Ramsey.
    Unless there’s a change for the better at qb with Ramsey as a backup as needed down to string number 2 or 3 no change expected in win loss column.

  6. Ramsey makes receivers vulnerable. Often receivers in short passes have to dive (when that was not designed play), reach, or get out of position to receive ball. Receivers play ability is neutralized, negative play or injury.

    1. You just mentioned my biggest concern t,

      Worst thing about the short passing game is those passes set the receiver up for a linebacker or strong safety to “t” off on your guy. How many times have we seen a receiver hit hard going across the middle or on a slant? You have to do a certain amount of that, but it can’t be your whole game plan. That is the major problem IUFB has dealt with the last two years. A QB who’s velocity downfield diminishes greatly past 10-20 yards. That’s a recipe for a very beat up receiver corps, and as the last two years have shown, the proof was indeed in the pudding. The guys shouldn’t have been beat up so badly.

  7. Small crowd Friday night, maybe next year a real scrimmage with the team split and we can see more fans in attendance, also maybe move the game back to Saturday around noon start time.

    1. I couldn’t agree more- they should move the game back to Saturday at noon. I hardly ever missed one. They should have a football clinic (passing, catching, kicking field goals) for students on Friday night with some free food (nothing draws students like free food). Then have the scrimmage on Saturday again. It used to be a great event- the players’ families were able to attend, beer and wine sold at the stadium, free boxed lunch and free tours. It offered a nice look at the team and usually with some nice spring weather too. And the Hoosiers never lose in the spring! A real plus for the long drive home.

      1. I think having the game Little 5 weekend doesn’t help as most students will be at the women’s race Friday night and recovering for the men’s race on Saturday. They need to avoid that weekend.

  8. In other news…. Over the weekend, Carmel DT Cole Brevard committed to Penn St. I was hoping he’d be the crown jewel of the recruiting class this cycle for the Hoosiers. There is plenty of time to flip him but I won’t hold my breathe.

  9. For a Big Ten football program to have a chance at winning, it must have quarterbacks that have the potential to become NFL players. Becoming a Big Ten quarterback obviously does not mean the player will get to the NFL, but a team must recruit quarterbacks that coaches believe have the potential to make it to that level. I doubt any college coach who evaluated PR while he was in High School concluded that he had the physical tools necessary to become an NFL quarterback. But based on how highly they were rated and the schools that made them offers, a lot of quality college coaches certainly thought Tuttle and Penix had that potential. You sign three or four studs that have the physical tools, then you see how they compete and evaluate their intangibles (i.e., leadership, judgement, football IQ, poise, etc.). PR seems to have good intangibles, but not the physical tools. He can throw, but he’s never going to win games with his arm strength. He moves well, but he’s never going to win games with his legs. For a college team to be successful with a quarterback like PR (i.e., “a game manager”), it needs a defense that is supreme, an excellent O-line and world-class play-makers on offense. IU does not have any of that at this time.

    As for the Friday night’s game, it’s just one more example that IU’s administration does not know how to do football very well. Ever seen the attendance and atmosphere at an SEC spring game?

    1. I could come with a list of QBs from winning programs in the B1G. Scratch that, I could come up with about a books worth of QBs from winning B1G programs that had about zero chance at making it in the NFL.

  10. True. If IU was able to recruit high level qbs. In past years except for a couple IU was not able to get nfl potential to come to IU. If qb was any good at all he expected to be the starter or the extra/s qb would leave the program.

  11. How many Pennsylvania high school recruits that could go to Penn State and play significantly choose IU?
    Tommy Stevens not playing significantly and Brevard are two examples of Indiana players going to Penn State.

    1. The Penn St fan base had been screaming for Stevens to play over McSorley the past two seasons. And it’s the exact same argument for their fan base as ours.

    1. t-roll: The argument about their QB not having the desired arm strength ie Ramsey/McSorley.

      And….Tommy Stevens hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in spot duty. I wouldn’t be shocked if he got beat out for the job this coming season.

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