Nofoagatoto’a in line for more snaps

This year’s freshman class has already offered Indiana football several major contributors, namely returner David Ellis, corner Tiawan Mullen, and offensive tackle Matthew Bedford.

Defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto’a may be the next in line to burn his redshirt.

“You never know, but right now, the plan is to play him,” IU coach Tom Allen said Thursday.

Mullen (CB), Ellis (KR), Bedford (OT), and Sampson James (RB), along with special-teamers Sean Wracher (LS) and D.K. Bonhomme (LB), have each exceeded the four-game redshirt threshold with five played.

Michigan State was the second game that Nofoagatoto’a, a 6-foot-4, 327-pounder from American Samoa, entered this season. With Juan Harris still in doubt for Saturday’s game versus Rutgers, Nofoagatoto’a will probably play his third game of 2019 with six to go.

“I was very encouraged by his play (at MSU), very encouraged by his week this week,” Allen said. “I think he’s a really good football player. His best football is ahead of him. He’s very strong. He’s learning technique, and I was extremely encouraged.”

The continued presence of Nofoagatoto’a would only enhance a youth movement along the lines for IU, especially on the defensive side.

Sophomore Demarcus Elliott, a JUCO transfer from Garden City, Kan., has taken hold of one of the defensive tackle spots next to redshirt junior Jerome Johnson. At defensive end, senior Allen Stallings is rotating with junior Michael Ziemba and sophomores James Head Jr. and Alfred “Lance” Bryant.

With youth, there have been some defensive inconsistencies. In two Big Ten games, the Hoosiers have allowed 962 yards. IU also ranks 12th in the conference in sacks.

At the same time, youth offers the potential for growth. Nofoagatoto’a, in particular, may be making some of the biggest strides of any Hoosier since fall camp.

“Just a few years ago, he was playing rugby. He’s not a long-seasoned football guy,” Allen said. “Just the techniques and all the things he’s learning, I think that’s why he’s improved more. But he is very strong, especially in his lower body. When his upper body catches up, he’ll be even better.

“But it’s just the technical part of it. He’s improved a lot since fall camp. He showed flashes then, but the consistency is what he’s really improved on.”

Three more freshmen have entered games, but they seem more likely to stay within the four-game limit. Defensive back Josh Sanguinetti entered non-conference contests versus Eastern Illinois and UConn. Defensive end Beau Robbins and corner Larry Tracy both entered a 52-0 rout of Eastern Illinois.

Allen also mentioned redshirt freshman Jonathan King and true freshman C.J. Person (who has yet to enter a game) as defensive tackles the Hoosiers are trying to bring along.

“We have a lot of good young guys that just need more reps,” Allen said. “So we are trying to get those guys more involved and help them be, as a unit, a committee of guys that can all play and get quality reps.”

Gest in transfer portal

Redshirt junior running back Cole Gest has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal, according to a program spokesman.

Gest, who suffered two season-ending injuries in his Hoosier career, including last year’s in the season opener, wasn’t able to carve out a niche in the Hoosiers’ deep backfield. His last carry came in the Ohio State game, putting him at five rushing attempts for minus-1 yard.

Gest also lost his kick-returning duties in the season opener to freshman David Ellis.

IU’s backfield has lost two players to transfer this season. Freshman Ivory Winters, who departed for Southeast Missouri State, put his name in the portal prior to the season opener.

At the same time, the Hoosiers’ RB corps is still stacked with young talent, including sophomores Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker and the freshman James. Redshirt sophomore Ahrod Lloyd, a former walk-on, was awarded a scholarship earlier this season, as well.

More on redshirt rule

The Hoosiers are about to face a team that has experienced some extreme circumstances surrounding the four-game redshirt rule.

After the firing of head coach Chris Ash, Scarlet Knights quarterback Artur Sitkowski and running back Raheem Blackshear decided to redshirt this season. It’s part of a growing trend of Division I contributors using the four-game rule to retain eligibility midseason, presumably for a forthcoming transfer.

“It’s created some unique situations that I don’t think a lot of us thought through,” Allen said. “I thought it was a good rule, still think it’s a good rule. Every situation’s different, and I’m not sitting here criticizing guys for those decisions.”

When asked how he would handle a similar situation, Allen said there is a “trust level” that comes into play between a player and coach.

“You talk to them man-to-man, face-to-face, and you talk it through,” Allen said. “My approach has been … hey, I need guys who are all in. Coaches are all in, players are all in, and if you can’t be all in, then there would be a little bit of a challenge with that.”

While Allen said he would always respect a player’s decision to sit or transfer, what bothers him are times when decisions to leave aren’t communicated ahead of time.

“Sometimes you don’t even know,” Allen said. “I’ve been here for a few years. We’ve had guys who take advantage of that and they never communicate with me. I have a hard time with that. Hey, just sit down. Let’s talk it through.

“It may happen on your job one day. You don’t just walk away. You sit down with the people you are responsible to and who you work for when you are on the job one day. I want to teach them how to be a man, and how to handle it. At the end of the day, guys got to make decisions, and I respect those.

“We’re going to love you, regardless. But we are going to teach you about life.”

Injury updates

Along with Harris on the d-line, the cornerback group has been missing two pieces in sophomore Reese Taylor and senior A’Shon Riggins.

Allen said Taylor has been back at practice and should be good to go. Riggins, on the other hand, continues to sit.

“Not sure on him yet,” Allen said. “His is going to be more long-term, it looks like.”

9 comments

  1. Sio was one of the freshmen I thought would see the field this year. I think over the next couple of years he will develop into one of the top DTs in the B1G. I hope he continues to improve each week helping IU’s defense get better. I am encouraged by IU’s younger athletes and the promise they hold that IU can move up in the B1G. I also like some of the older players that are excelling this year.

  2. I must admit that I don’t understand the whole “to redshirt or not to redshirt, that is the question” thing. In the above article, “Scarlet Knights quarterback Artur Sitkowski and running back Raheem Blackshear decided to redshirt this season.” Huh? The players decided not to play? Whatever happened to, “Put me in, coach!” I understand, generally, that the idea is not to play a guy this year so that he can play four years from now, but it sure seems that knowing whether that is a good call would require an advanced degree in crystal ball gazing. Who knows whether the guy in question will even be enrolled in school, or not have blown out his knee, four years from now? If the talent is there and the need is there, put him in, coach!

  3. Davis: my understanding is that the Rutgers players requested to be or took themselves out. Apparently they see the season as a lost cause and want to remain eligible for another year/coachung regime. So the coach isn’t saving the players, they’re saving themselves for a coach they’d rather play for than the interim coach. Pretty crummy in my view, but then again maybe the situation is so bad it’s easily understood or justified.

    1. The university threw in the towel and gave up on the season when they fired Ash in the first week of October. Can’t really blame players who might choose to follow suit.

  4. I read an article yesterday about the Houston program. Apparently, the coach decided to bag this season and requested the seniors, including a Heisman candidate, to redshirt and come back next year. Of course, for some seniors it wasn’t an option. So, those guys are faced with finishing the season shorthanded with some of their best players being saved until next year…and a coach who has given up on the season.

    So far, at least one senior quit the team. He said he tried to speak with the coach about the issue but the coach to him he didn’t have the time.

  5. Why don’t they just ‘ghost’ redshirt…?

    The NCAA says it doesn’t actually count as skipping a redshirt since non-athlete students possessing red shirts can go or not go to games as they please during the entire year in question.

  6. Would love to have been a fly on the wall when TA had conversations with Tuttle. Is Tuttle being red-shirted this season? Is it still up in the air? If Tuttle is not being red-shirted, why did he not play today? TA must be betting that PR is willing to spend his last year of eligibility as the back-up to Penix (no way PR beats Penix out in head-to-head competition next season). If so, that’s a dangerous assumption and one that could leave TA with a back-up (Tuttle) that has virtually no experience. Or worse yet, as one regular poster on this site predicts, TA could lose both Tuttle and PR to transfer at the end of this season. Unless TA has decided Tuttle isn’t going to work out, Tuttle needs to be playing in garbage time in games like today.

    1. As I think we’ve mentioned here before, Tuttle used his redshirt last year at Utah. He’s a redshirt freshman this season, like Penix. I would be surprised if Tuttle transferred again, because he’d have to sit out a year this time unless it’s FCS. Would not be at all surprised to see Ramsey go the grad transfer route.

    2. PacNW, that was exactly my point; the players decided, not the coaches! These guys are getting scholarships in exchange for participating in a sports team. So how can they decide for themselves not to perform their half of the bargain?

      Bear, I’m not sure that M’land “threw in the towel” by firing Ash mid-season. The decision to part ways with him having been made, doing it now has some logic to it. Employer can start openly looking for a new coach and employee can get a head start to find his next ride on the coaching carousel. Of course it’s disruptive, but so would be media and locker room speculation for the balance of 2019 about whether Ash is a lame duck. ADs and trustees are charged with a long-term responsibility to look past a season, and sometimes an interim coach can even still win some games.

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