Offense vs. defense in Cream and Crimson game

Last week, everything was going according to plan.

The rosters for Indiana’s annual Cream and Crimson game were coming together just as they had in Tom Allen’s first two springs as IU head coach, with the first few “free agent” signings starting the process of player allocation.

Then, things came to an abrupt halt.

When Utah transfer Jack Tuttle contracted what Indiana is calling a “short-term sickness” late in the week, the Hoosiers found themselves with only one fully healthy scholarship quarterback available for this tonight’s spring game. So, Allen called an audible.

Instead of splitting his roster into two teams, complete with offensive, defensive and special teams platoons, Allen had to devise a workaround for his quarterback shortage. So this year’s Cream and Crimson game will be, simply, a matchup between IU’s offense and its defense.

“Going to do a little bit different format, but also excited about the way we’re going to run it,” Allen said. “Going to get a lot of guys involved.”

The offense will be the Cream team and the defense will be the Crimson squad for this year’s spring game, which will consist of 15-minute quarters on a running clock. Redshirt junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey will serve as the quarterback during each of the live contact portions of the game, while redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix, who continues to recover from ACL surgery last fall, will be allowed to throw in the 7-on-7 segments.

Indiana will also be playing it safe with some of its more established players on the offensive side. Left tackle Coy Cronk and right guard Simon Stepaniak will be held out as a precaution, while running back Stevie Scott, who set several freshman rushing records for IU last fall, will also be used exclusively in 7-on-7 situations to limit wear and tear.

A handful of other veteran players, as well, will likely see the bulk of their action in non-contact scenarios.

“I think that it’s a great opportunity for us to really get the work we need as a young football team,” Allen said. “Really want to get a lot of good reps with our guys. Still feel like we need to tackle. I know some teams do this as a modified version of it, especially after their first drive or so, but the plan right now is to be able to go through that and get some good reps in. We’ll have a couple guys out on offense that we’re just choosing to sit out. But bottom line is, it’s going to be a lot of good reps for our guys. A lot of young guys we need to get better.”

Although Tuttle’s absence, in particular, is a wet blanket over the annual exhibition, there are other young players who will command attention in the Hoosiers’ final spring workout. While meeting with reporters Thursday morning, Allen spoke at length about the underclassmen who have used the spring to their advantage

Defensive end Madison Norris has earned praise over the last month for his development up front. The Hamilton Southeastern product was focused on track and field this time last year, when he won the 2018 Indiana High School Athletic Association state title in the 110 meter high hurdles. Norris weighed 189 pounds when he stepped onto campus in the summer, and used his redshirt year in the fall to add to his body and learn IU’s defensive system.

This spring, the 6-foot-5 Norris weighs 206 pounds and is showing the kind of speed IU needs off the edge.

“We have a redshirt year under his belt now, and really saw him make some good burst to the football, whether it’s when the quarterback starts to flush, pursuit, chasing the ball down from the back side,” Allen said. “He just plays with tremendous effort. I just love his toughness. He’s long. He’s got a big ol’ frame. You just got to get some weight on him. And we will. We brought him here for that purpose, to rush the passer. That’s a big thing for us.”

Elsewhere on the defense, linebackers James Miller, a redshirt freshman, and sophomore Micah McFadden have come on strong. Redshirt freshman corner Noah Pierre is also working his way up the depth chart.

“You come into the spring time — it’s his first spring here after redshirting — and you never know,” Allen said of Pierre. “Some guys really take to it and take off, and he’s just played with a lot of confidence. He plays really fast and I’m really anxious to see him. He’s one of those guys that we took in that class that we felt was very deep in the secondary. He’s proven to be another guy that continues to get better.”

Offensively, receivers Miles Marshall and Jacolby Hewitt have been bright spots, as have some of IU’s young linemen. Redshirt freshmen tackles Aidan Rafferty and Nick Marozas are learning to play with additional weight on their frames, with Marozas working with 35 extra pounds on his 6-5 body. He now weighs in at 300 pounds.

Rafferty, meanwhile, has taken one of the biggest jumps on the roster. He’s added 50 pounds since his arrival last summer, and now stands at 6-6, 315.

“Aidan Rafferty has worked extremely hard,” Allen said. “He’s gained 50 pounds since he’s been here. Well, you got to get used to playing with those 50 pounds that you have now on your body. Those are things that happen. Nick Marozas is the same way. He’s gotten a lot bigger, and those are guys that we’re counting on to develop. They’re not quite ready yet, but they will be. I just think that’s the kind of growth we’re looking for. I think that when you look at even tomorrow night, I expect those guys to get a lot of reps.”

Ultimately, that’s where the benefit of the final practice is felt the most — getting IU’s youngest players the reps they need.

And while the format itself will be different this year, maybe the most important component to Indiana’s spring game remains the same.

“We are still playing for a steak dinner,” Allen said. “So lots at stake. Literally.”

4 comments

  1. Talk: Improved qb room. 2 with good talent and starter from previous year. 3 deep. I agree.
    Reality: Currently, 1 available qb for spring game minus 2 qbs that made up improved qb room.
    Football Season 2019 Fall? What will talk be vs reality for qb room?

  2. It was a good Spring Game despite a number of starters sitting out and only one QB running with the offense. I thought the defense looks much better and faster than last year’s group. They run and hit when pursuing the ball getting several take-aways.

    The game doesn’t mean a lot from a Fall Game perspective but it did show some differences from last year’s team. The defense looks more stout in the middle letting the LBs run to the ball without fighting off OL blockers. The defense did a good job blanketing the receivers other than a few screw ups. The defense looks more physical heading into the Fall Camp than last year’s group.

    The showed more emphasis pushing the ball up the field although I thought Ramsey didn’t see seam routes open that would have really hurt the defense. Ramsey’s arm looks stronger but still limited, it will be up to coach DeBoer to push the ball up the field. Our receivers had a hard time adjusting to Penix passes as they came in with more zip. Hale looks like a stud receiver for IU and could have a big year. The OL, made up of several back ups, looked solid but not spectacular. The offense had too many turnovers that really shouldn’t have happened.

    All in all, IU looked like an intriguing team for 2019 and only playing the first three games will we know how good they will be.

    1. V13,
      You noticed the same thing I did with Penix in the PSU game last year. Penix and the receivers seemed slightly out of sync due to what I thought at the time were two reasons which lack of familiarity on the field was the culprit. First, the ball is coming to them considerably faster than they are accustomed to, and secondly, the pass is coming from a left hander which takes some getting used to. Had Penix been at QB all year, I don’t think they would have been out of sync at all.

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