Philyor confident heading into MSU game

A couple of hours after Whop Philyor’s extraordinary acts of agility versus Eastern Illinois, the 5-foot-11 receiver was still somewhat surprised.

Popped into the air by a shoulder-to-shoulder collision, he spun 360 degrees while his left foot held to the ground like the point of a top. Another 10 yards down the field, a defender tried to drag Philyor to the ground, but he flipped his body around again, his right foot sticking the landing that time as he effortlessly restarted another churn forward.

He didn’t know he could do that. He didn’t know his knee could hold so straight, especially after an injury-marred sophomore season.

But that was three weeks ago. Since then, the headspace of the Hoosiers’ energetic, affable slot receiver has been filled with some very positive vibes. Readying for a trip to No. 25 Michigan State, Philyor repeated the word “confident” as if it was his mantra.

“I wasn’t sure my knee was going to hold still like that. I was a little bit under-confident,” Philyor said of that highlight versus Eastern Illinois. “But now I’m confident. My confidence is through the roof. Confident in our team, confidence everywhere. All around this building, just going to feel confident.”

Philyor, the Hoosiers’ offensive player of the game versus UConn, has found another gear following a sophomore season that was cut short at seven games. For all the talk about tight end Peyton Hendershot’s emergence, Philyor is right behind him in catches and receiving yards, with 17 for 229.

Last season, it was against the Spartans where Philyor nearly broke out. His 65-yard touchdown connection with Peyton Ramsey was probably the highlight of the Hoosiers’ 35-21 loss. Despite a high ankle sprain, he fought through for 13 total catches for 148 yards.

Tom Allen called Philyor a “tough nut” after that performance. Unfortunately, he was only able to play three games the rest of the season. He finished with 23 receptions for 235 yards — 10 catches and 100 yards short of his freshman total.

“I try to forget about all the bad things that happened last year,” Philyor said. “I try to focus on this year, the things that are happening with us now, things like that.”

The mental part of being injured was the hardest for Philyor. He dealt with a knee issue early in his freshman campaign. Then there were multiple injuries to grapple with as a sophomore.

Senior receiver Nick Westbrook, who had his true junior season taken away by an ACL tear, helped keep Philyor from sinking too low.

“The work aspect wasn’t hard, just the mental aspect, keeping my head there, staying strong with my mind,” Philyor said. “When you get hurt, your mind gets to wandering, like ‘Can I do this still? Is this worth it?’ So just the mind things, really. But the other stuff was easy. The physical things are easy.”

A confident Philyor would be an important boost for the Hoosiers as they face a defense with a stalwart front seven. It may be necessary to spread the Spartans out with the pass before running into the teeth of a unit anchored by first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Joe Bachie.

The ball could be coming Philyor’s way.

He was asked about his 13-catch game versus the Spartans last season. For the most part, Philyor seemed content to leave it in the past. He’s keeping his focus on the future, bursting with renewed confidence.

But “confident” wasn’t the only word on Philyor’s mind as the Hoosiers head up to East Lansing as underdogs.

“I’m just ready to compete. I’m always ready to compete. I’m competitive,” Philyor said. “We are going to go out there and give them boys our best shot like we always do every week. We just ready to compete.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Who blocks Kenny Willekes?

Ohio State’s Chase Young may end up being the best pass-rusher the Hoosiers face all season, but Willekes would be right behind him. Willekes was second to none last year, winning the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year award. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior has four sacks this season. None of those came versus Northwestern last week, but can the Hoosiers repeat that feat with Coy Cronk out of the picture at right tackle? It’s incredibly difficult to run on this Spartan defense, so keeping pressure off of Peyton Ramsey or Michael Penix Jr. in passing situations will be crucial.

2. Stopping Elijah Collins.

While the Spartans will do their best to limit the Hoosier ground game, it’s incumbent upon IU to do the same. Michigan State’s most consistent offensive weapon this season has been the redshirt freshman Collins, who broke out with 192 yards versus Western Michigan in Week 2. He’s been quieter since then, averaging 18 carries for 74 yards, but the Spartan offensive line has been dealing with some injuries. Senior quarterback Brian Lewerke is experienced but sometimes inconsistent. Give him a run game, and Lewerke starts hitting on play-action passes. That’s when the Spartans roll.

3. The special teams game.

Every phase is important in a game like this, and a low-scoring, defensive battle relies heavily on field position. The punt game wasn’t great in the Hoosiers’ Big Ten opener with Ohio State. A punt was blocked and another shanked. But, for the most part, senior Haydon Whitehead has been effective this season. He has four punts of 50-plus yards, which matches his season total from 2018. A couple of big booms can flip field position in a game like this. A return man like David Ellis, who hails from Michigan, can also give the Hoosiers an advantage. The freshman has been close to breaking one.

4. Takeaways, takeaways, takeaways.

Last week, the Hoosiers saw what a well-timed takeaway can do. Sophomore Cam Jones’ 44-yard interception return for a touchdown quickly turned a 17-3 game into what was about to become a 38-3 runaway. Still, IU’s three takeaways in four games falls below Tom Allen’s standard. They would like to force multiple turnovers per game, like in years past, and this is a game where multiples could turn the tide. IU can’t afford a fumble on its opening possession, as was the case last week. And on the defensive side of the ball, the Hoosiers want to jar one loose. MSU has fumbled five times and lost three in the first four games.

By the numbers

-73: Rushing yards Tulsa gained (or, actually, lost) versus Michigan State on Aug. 30.

7: Straight losses for IU to Michigan State in East Lansing.

40: Career starts made by IU tackle Coy Cronk prior to his season-ending injury vs. UConn.

52.3: Rushing yards allowed per game by the Spartans, the second-fewest in the Big Ten and tied for third nationally.

95: Total career starts for MSU defensive linemen Mike Panasiuk, Raequan Williams, and Kenny Willekes.

13 comments

  1. Mr. Blau: you are every bit as talented as your predecessors. We are fortunate to have as lead IU scribe.

  2. With Michigan State has lost its top three offensive left tackles (Cole Chewins, A.J. Arcuri and Kevin Jarvis) this season, they are down to their fourth offensive tackles…surely Michigan State offensive line has to be in some kind of disarray….If they run the football down Indiana throat, it would be very disappointing. This is a game where the defense (offense also) really needs to step up. Its a winnable game which nobody in the media (sport bookies) gives Indiana a chance. It is time for Tom Allen to have some sort of a “signature” victory.

  3. how sad was that defensive stand….if Michigan State needs any yardage just run your running back to the right side of the line….Why can’t a starting Indiana defensive end beat a fourth unit offensive tackle??

  4. Defense is not just bad, this is an abomination. If it weren’t for Michael Penix, we would be in a Ohio State type blowout today.

    MP is great. What a difference.

    Hopefully we can learn to play defense in the 2nd half.

  5. Beside freshman Tiawan Mullen stay with Michigan State wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr?? Looks like Kane Wommack is in over his head.

  6. what good is it to have 6’4 and 6’2 inch wide receivers when you do not try to get the football to them in the endzone?? Do not understand, hopefully this does not come back to hurt Indiana.

  7. Lack of discipline. No OL run push. Same ol story. The only ‘takeaway’ from this is that IU is its own worst enemy and Glass needs to steal a top 10 OL coordinator so maybe IU will be able to run the ball.

  8. Don Fisher: 40 to 31 but was much closer because before last IU desperate play MSU won 34 to 31. WRONG BECAUSE IF NEEDED MSU COULD HAVE WENT FOR TD +EXTRA POINT INSTEAD OF FG 38 to 31. Just say’n.
    Such as IU football.

  9. Shoulda known with 2 min left on the clock that we’d give it up.

    I hate watching Indiana football.

    They played well. But once again…….SHORT.

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