Scott, Hoosiers try to keep rolling at PSU

When Stevie Scott found himself carried away in pursuit of the big play, Indiana running backs coach Mike Hart could bring him back to reality.

At times, the Hoosiers’ 6-foot-2, 231-pound sophomore was bypassing a guaranteed three yards, veering toward the sideline in search of a 50-yard fantasy.

But the result was usually a no-gainer.

“Just take the three yards and let’s get to second-and-7 and the offense is where it needs to be. You’ll get more opportunities to carry the ball,” Hart said. “You try to make a big play, you get zero yards, then we are not going to run the ball again. We’re going to pass it two times in a row.”

Scott, the Syracuse, N.Y., native, paid particular attention to the words of Hart, another Syracuse product who had his years of Big Ten stardom at Michigan. Hart is the man who recruited Scott to IU, even after an injured ankle put him out during his senior season at Christian Brothers Academy.

“He’s a very tough guy, very great coach,” Scott said Wednesday on Tom Allen’s radio show. “Loving to his players but he’ll be hard on you when he has to and that’s what I love about him.”

Early in the season, yards weren’t easy to find for Scott. Coming off of a record-breaking freshman season at IU, defenses were stacking the box on him. That made the big play even more tantalizing for the Hoosiers’ workhorse back.

The sophomore was mostly able to stave off frustration, keeping a positive mind as the offensive line meshed and defenders fell out of the box to combat IU’s emerging passing attack. Scott just wanted to win. But once the conditions for running success arrived, Scott had to take advantage of what was there.

Hart helped him do that.

“Take three yards now, and in the second, third quarter, those are going to be 15-, 20-yard gains,” Hart said.

In recent weeks, Scott’s patience and positive frame of mind has been rewarded. Scott has rolled to three 100-yard rushing games in his last four. Through five games, he was averaging 3.7 yards per carry. During the Hoosiers’ four-game Big Ten winning streak, that average is 6.3.

Sometimes, aiming for less gets a running back more.

“Just taking each practice, day-by-day, trying to get better with my teammates,” Scott said. “Just reviewing the film and going over the bad things and little things to work on … trying to fix everything so we can move forward and play at a high level.”

The run game will be put to the test Saturday in Happy Valley. Penn State is the Big Ten’s top rush defense, allowing just 74.2 yards per contest.

The same way a big play from slot receiver Whop Philyor can bring energy to IU’s offense, Scott can do the same from the ground — with a shoulder pad planted into the chest of an opposing defender.

“We want to be physical,” Hart said. “I think when that happens, the defense knows ‘I better go lower next time.’”

IU’s coaches can tell Scott is running with just a little more juice right now, and there are several reasons why.

The offensive line, which had to replace current NFL contributors Wes Martin (Redskins) and Brandon Knight (Cowboys) from 2018’s unit, has improved each week. Defenses have also had to respect the potency of the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten, which has tipped Kalen DeBoer’s play-calling back in a running direction.

“I think there’s a confidence and swagger he’s got back,” DeBoer said of Scott. “He just had to let things come to him. You look at last year and the success he had. He had high expectations. People early were certainly thinking stopping us was to focus on him.

“Another huge challenge this week against Penn State. They do a great job against the run. I think our guys just have a different confidence and swagger about them, not just overall, but especially in the run game.”

And it just seems like Scott gets into a groove with each carry. In his last four games, 324 of Scott’s 456 yards have come after halftime.

He takes what is there, punishing defenders with hard, downhill runs. Bigger plays come later.

“He’s always great in the second half, once he gets in a flow,” Hart said. “The thing I’m most impressed with, I think he’s running a lot harder, especially on short-yardage situations. They may not be 50-yard runs but I need to get third-and-1, get hit a yard and a half behind the line of scrimmage, and fall forward.

“That’s kinda what he’s doing and buying from that standpoint.”

Those are the gains Scott may have to find versus a stout Penn State run defense, just to keep the offense on the field.

If he can stay patient, the big gains will come.

“Just let the game to come to you,” Hart said. “The big plays are going to happen when they happen. When you try to get big plays, you don’t get the plays you need to get the big play.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Containing K.J.

Freshman corner Tiawan Mullen and his counterparts have passed several tests this season, but the speed of junior K.J. Hamler (739 yards, 8 TDs) is unique. One misstep, and he’s gone. IU’s secondary can’t allow the Nittany Lions’ speedster get by them, and their overall task is complicated by the presence of tight end Pat Freiermuth. He’s a 6-foot-5, 256-pound target over the middle who presents a different kind of matchup problem. Penn State’s offense is probably going to pick up chunks of yards through the air — it’s a passing attack that has racked up 107 first downs, third-most in the Big Ten, behind Purdue, 132, and IU, 122 — but eliminating the big play and, at times, bending but not breaking in the red zone would give the Hoosiers a fighting chance.

2. Winning in the trenches.

One of Allen’s first remarks about Penn State’s 2019 squad is its strength in the trenches. In his four years at IU, dating back to his time as defensive coordinator, this is the best Allen has seen from the Nittany Lions. Not only does that pose a challenge for the Hoosiers’ defense, which has to be wary of both the pass and run threats of Sean Clifford, but can the IU offense keep its ground game rolling against the No. 1 rush defense (74.2 ypg) in the Big Ten? Even if Stevie Scott can’t break off the big run, getting a forward push on first down and staying on schedule will be crucial, because while the Lions’ secondary is vulnerable, it’s not incapable (8 INTs). If the Hoosiers find themselves in too many third-and-long situations, that will make it difficult to score points. Shaka Toney and Yetur Gross-Matos have each recorded five sacks, making it difficult to focus on just one.

3. Ripping the ball out.

Can the Hoosiers keep their takeaway streak going? In their last four games, they have forced seven of their eight fumbles. Penn State, however, is a team that’s mostly secure with the ball on the ground. The Nittany Lions have lost four fumbles, tied for the second fewest in the conference. IU and Maryland have fumbled the ball away just three times each. Clifford showed he’s vulnerable to throwing the ball away, surrendering three interceptions at Minnesota. But the IU defense has only come away with three interceptions this season, the least in the Big Ten. The turnover battle is always a big deal, especially for an underdog in a hostile environment. It just won’t be easy to rob the Lions.

4. Beating history.

This appears to be a very confident team heading to State College, Pa., riding a four-game conference winning streak. But the Hoosiers have never won in Beaver Stadium in a series that dates back to 1993. Tom Allen says if any of his players or coaches don’t believe the Hoosiers can win, they shouldn’t get on the bus. Believing is important. But doing is another thing entirely. IU hasn’t beaten a top 10 team since 1987, and No. 9 Penn State should be highly motivated after dropping its first game of the season. But if the Hoosiers can pull off an upset in Happy Valley, it could be one of the biggest moments in program history.

By the numbers

4: IU’s current streak of Big Ten wins. The program record is five straight, set in 1967.

5: Opponents the 1945 IU team held to three or fewer points, a school record. This year’s IU squad has held four teams to three or less.

9: IU record for most games scoring 30 or more points in a season (2015). This year’s team has surpassed 30 points eight times.

17.9: Stevie Scott’s average number of carries per game, which ranks fifth among active FBS running backs.

32: Years since IU has beaten a top 10 team. It last occurred on Oct. 10, 1987 over No. 9 Ohio State.

22 comments

  1. Well, this is certainly about what we can expect. Indiana still makes too many mental errors. Skill wise, they look like the better team. But on the road vs Top 10 team has little room for error. We have to overcome their linebackers drilling us helmet to helmet without even a second look for the officials. We’ll be behind the ball all day.

    Also, Peyton needs to get done confidence throwing the ball to our receivers down the field. Our big boys are hungry to eat their little corners. Throw ’em the ball Peyton!

  2. If stupid is a criteria for winning, IU must be national chumps! Secondly, Scott is as elusive as a sloth. Thirdly, Allen, get back on the bus. You guys brought everything but discipline and brains to the unincorporated burrough of State College. Just not ready for prme time. Yeah, it makes me just as sick as it does you. The only thing less reliable than this crew is Adam Viniateri’s kicking. Flat out sad, disappointing and disgusting.

  3. Well, what can be said about this Indiana football team….Why do you go for it on fourth and inches after a timeout…Go ahead and punt the ball. At the moment looks like Indiana is getting out-coached.

  4. Easy Brad. We’re only down 3 despite all the issues. Lots to break down after the game, but hang in there. We’re still in this.

  5. GAME OVER!!! Indiana was Out-coached in this game….Kane Wommack inexperience showed up in this game. Was the game competitive – somewhat…..too many mental and undiscipline errors…that have happen all year/season.

  6. Mishandled punt early, coach decision to run play on 4th down having no chance plus penalties. Results in 2 Penn State touchdowns. IU still avoids blowout loss.

  7. Yes. Just as grit is party of this teams identity, lack of discipline and sloppiness is wrapped around it. You will never beat a top ten team on the road with the kinds of mistakes Indiana has made, unforced today. And it starts with the coaching staff. That fake punt call and the sequence leading up to it was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on the football field. This belief thing is good (and they have that working), but you can’t kick your team in the head like a Big Ten referee from the sideline and expect them to pull off an upset.

    I just hope Whop is available for Michigan. That double hit to the head doesn’t look promising.

  8. And IU competed covered point spread. That does mean something especially since IU made it hard on themselves and easy on Penn State for a couple plays that were followed up with 2 Penn State touchdowns.

  9. IU just went toe to toe with a top 10 team and lost by 7 on the road with their best receiver only playing a quarter. The better team won but IU is close. Offense was good, fake punt was weird, defense did ok. IU needs a little more talent to go from hanging with the best to beating the best.

    1. ^^^You could insert that statement into any of the seasons of the last twenty years. Even Lynch got close against Michigan (saved by another ref seemingly paid off…as in this game today).

  10. I erred in stating coach calling 4th down play that had no chance. T. Allen explained to the Fish that wasn’t the play called. It was freshman long snapper who has done great job all year error.

    1. Thanks for that, t. That’s an important fact. Glad you caught that. I rescind my criticism of that play call.

      1. Allen was obviously considering the 4th down “go for it” call because he called timeout. Even now appearing to be the long snapper’s mistake, there was likely some discussions to go for it.
        Also, Ramsey had little trouble winning the 4th and inches battles at the goal line. Seems like that should have been the call. It’s gotta to be the call when you’re playing beyond moral victories.

        It was bungled (by coach burning his timeout, not going for it on 4th and inches, or long snapper misunderstanding the play call) no matter how you slice it.

    1. It was targeting according to the rule. Yes, it should have been called but not every time or sometimes it is not called. I have seen targeting called for less than what that play entailed.
      Yes, it is up to the coach to make sure everyone including long snapper is on same page. The coach evidently created confusion with long snapper on 4th down.

  11. Respectively disagree, t. That’s an obvious targeting/helmet to helmet. That call should never be missed.

    They have a habit of “looking the other way” in Happy Valley.

    Must be a lot of booster money in that program to witness such egregious stuff flippantly overlooked (whether 15 years of the monster, Sandusky,…or simply protecting a kid from a potentially serious traumatic hit to the head which rules are in place to prevent).

  12. Like usual, despite IU playing tough and never quitting a poster or two just can look at the nearness IU is to a #9 team. Yes I wanted them to win and clean up mistakes but they took the #9 team to the wall. As much as people want to criticize the defense PSU fans could do the same with their defense that struggle to contain IU’s offense. IU’s offense took one of the top defenses in the country and made them struggle to stop our offense.This year has been far better than preseason predictions thought IU would have.

    Justus Logan continues to be automatic on FGs and our freshman long snapper has only messed up one time this year.

    Two games to go and we will see if IU can win nine games or eight this regular season. I will continue to enjoy this season supporting this team to win two more games heading into the bowl game. If they come up short I will keep supporting them and defending them against people that only know how to criticize.

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