No virtual substitute for IU’s QB-WR connection

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has a strong arm.

So it’s theoretically possible for the southpaw to reach Whop Philyor in their mutual hometown of Tampa, Fla. But he can’t throw a slant to Ty Fryfogle in Mississippi or Miles Marshall in Georgia. He can’t float a “go” route to D’Shaun Brown in Wisconsin or David Ellis in Michigan.

Of all the limitations placed on football players as they prepare for a 2020 season amid a pandemic, the disconnect between a quarterback and his receivers is one inescapable hurdle. Receivers coach Grant Heard can have his players watching all the tape they want, running routes to their heart’s content, but nothing can simulate the timing between a passer and his pass-catchers.

Especially considering the arms serving as stand-ins.

“Conversation between us and the quarterback is great, but the ball that Mike Penix throws is gonna be a lot different than their high school quarterback,” Heard said. “When they get here, whenever that is, we’re going to ramp up our catching, going out there and throwing balls, catch as many balls as we can in a short amount of time.”

While the Hoosiers are slated to return their top three receiving yardage producers in Philyor, Fryfogle, and tight end Peyton Hendershot, the rest of Penix’s targets could have used a normal spring to develop a chemistry. Outside receivers Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale — and their combined 945 yards in 2019 — have graduated from IU. Beyond Philyor, Fryfogle, and even Marshall, Heard needs to find two or three more reliable route-runners.

Will it be Ellis, who spent his freshman campaign mostly at receiver but the spring experimenting at running back? Will it be Brown, a former prep quarterback who flashed playmaking ability in practices as a redshirt? Will it be the 6-foot-5 specimen Jordan Jakes finding his stride, or Jacolby Hewitt on the comeback trail from last year’s ACL injury?

Four spring practices weren’t enough to find firm answers.

“They all say they’ve been running and doing this. I’ve been in their shoes and I know they may not be running at the intensity they need to be,” Heard said. “I don’t know that, but time will tell and the cream is going to rise to the top. And what you say you’ve been doing is going to be shown.

“We’re all going to know the truth. You can’t hide from it when you get here.”

All signs are pointing toward a resumption of activities, especially with the NCAA approving voluntary workouts for football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball once its current moratorium expires on June 1. Then again, it’s also up to conferences like the Big Ten, and state and local governments, to give the go-ahead, and it’s not yet known when that will all come together for IU.

In the meantime, Heard and his receivers are doing as much as they can to stress the mental end of things. After last year’s installation of a new offense, working to develop a rhythm with both Penix and oft-used backup Peyton Ramsey, the hope is that rising seniors like Philyor and Fryfolge can watch film with the intent of learning the nuances of opposing defenses and exploiting those.

Heard has also posted drill tapes online for IU’s receivers to watch and imitate. But their coach isn’t there to correct them. And their quarterback isn’t there throwing. So it’s really up to them, particularly young receivers like Brown, Jakes, and Hewitt, to make sure they aren’t falling behind.

“My guys are doers. They need to do it. And just reading it in a book doesn’t give it to them all the time,” Heard said. “But, you know, they all want to be pro NFL players, and this is what NFL players are doing right now. They’re having to do it on their own and take a bunch of mental reps and cutups and try to learn that way.”

Once they are reunited with Penix, the crispest route-runners and the softest hands will be revealed.

Until then, it’s hard for IU’s quarterback to communicate with his receivers about how routes should be run. He’ll have to figure that out with most of them at a later date.

“Now you could do that with a Whop or a Ty, because they understand, but the young ones, they don’t,” Heard said. “They have no clue. They’re just trying to figure out their left from their right half the time.

“I don’t think they realize how fast that ball’s coming out when Mike throws it. And that’s gonna be a little bit of a change of when they when they get to it.

“They’re gonna have a couple of weeks before the season starts to get ramped up and understand that each play is critical. We can’t have mistakes. Even though mistakes are gonna happen, we got to keep those to a minimum.”

Especially after a year where the Hoosiers topped the Big Ten in passing yards, Heard knows just how important his group can be to IU’s offensive success.

“When we throw the ball good, we have a good offensive output. We do,” Heard said. “I know we have to run the ball, but we always got to have that threat of being able to throw it. And so I gotta find two or three other guys that can come out and help us push this thing to the next level.”

23 comments

  1. And speaking of predicted sleeper teams in the big ten east no it’s not IU but Mich and the showdown game is OSU and Penn S. I would hardly call Mich a sleeper team. That’s not going out on much of a limb. Same o same o and some things don’t change but remain the same. My sleeper team in the big east is IU since I really don’t consider Mich a sleeper team regardless of recent championship shortcomings. And in the big ten east I consider Purdue as qualifying for the sleeper team label.

  2. “While the Hoosiers are slated to return their top three receiving yardage producers in Philyor, Fryfogle, and tight end Peyton Hendershot,….”

    Say what!? Did I read that right? Is TA’s staff planning on Hendershot returning? Did I miss the news about the DA withdrawing all the charges filed against him? Did his former girlfriend confess to making up the story? Unless he’s found not guilty in a court of law, I can’t see IU bringing Hendershot back on to the team.

    TA has a daughter. He should imagine how he’d feel if his daughter’s 6’5″ 250 lbs. football-playing boyfriend behaved that way toward her. How would TA react if such things happened his daughter?

    Unless he’s found not guilty, I’ll be disappointed if Hendershot plays for IU in 2020. At the very least, if he’s found guilty, or if he pleads to a reduced charge, Hendershot should be suspended for an entire season.

    1. Podunker,

      I’m not sure if you missed it, but Peyton Hendershot has returned to the team, albeit in a “modified way,” which we’re hoping Tom Allen will elaborate on more next week. Kevin Wright also indicated Wednesday that he expects to have Hendershot back.

      No, the charges aren’t dropped. If you read the story yesterday about Kham Taylor and the tight ends, Hendershot has a change of plea hearing scheduled for June 9. So right now, he’s “slated” to return. If that changes, we’ll let you all know.

    2. A plea agreement has been reached for PH that will address the criminal charges and corresponding punishment. Once that is announced, IU and Coach Allen will administer their penalties, which have not been officially determined, though I understand they have a general sense of what they’re going to do.

  3. I hope that june 1 gives all these young man enough time to get their bodies in football shape. With the way this season is developing i can foresee a lot of football injuries this year..related to players not being in condition and related to a late start in the season (conditioning program). This will truly be and usual football season. A lot of preseason pressure is being put on Michael Penix to produce…to be the saviour of the Indiana football program….to take this program to the next level. Don’t get me wrong the young man (Penix) is very gifted, but he cannot do it alone. This team has a lot of question that need to be answer. A lot of new coaches. looking at the schedule everything points to a 7 win seasons (Western Kentucky, Ball State, Conn, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and maybe Michigan State) with 5 loses. Wisconsin will run the ball down out throats like normal. Ohio State is Ohio State (we will never beat in my lifetime and your lifetime). Michigan game is at the big house – Indiana last beat a Michigan team in 1987 – cannot remember Indiana ever beating Michigan at the big house. Penn State will be a close game but like normal they will pull out a win in the end. Purdue – Jeff Brohm will simply out coach Tom Allen..Purdue will simply attack the Indiana secondary and eat it alive. A 7-5 record gives Indiana a winning record for two years in a row and to a bowl game.

    1. 79,
      I share your concerns regarding the conditioning of the players along with several other concerns the breaking of the normal year round cycle of preparation in a FB program, both for IUFB and programs around the country. The conditioning concern may be a little more heightened at IUFB due to the off season change in coordinators. If new S&C coach had been in the program for a couple years it wouldn’t be nearly as great a concern, but hopefully will be able to get around it.

      As for the season prognostication, it will be interesting to see how well IUFB adapts to the disruption of the normal year round football prep cycle once it comes time to play ball. I can see it being an up and down season if the team does not find its balance quickly. Before all the chaos of the pandemic, I could see a path for IUFB to roll into Columbus the first week of November unbeaten. Obviously, a lot of things would have to fall into place correctly and a great deal of good fortune would be involved, but the schedule after the opener sets up very nicely.

      As for the opener, Wisky will always play the style of game they play. That doesn’t change. However, I do remember once upon a time IUFB possessing a singularly gifted QB who the folks up in Madison had no answer for. Could IUFB possibly recapture the necessary lightning in a bottle again at QB to give UW nightmares? Won’t know until we know.

      The only thing I can say is that like a few others on this board, I’m old enough to remember very clearly a magical season over 50 years ago now. No one saw it coming like that, and sadly, nothing like it has been seen since. However, but like the Cubs faithful, one can only hope. Sometimes . . .

  4. Regardless of the # of new coaches the players roster has a years maturity and experience. It wasn’t till about 12 years ago IUFB didn’t have full time players. Most were home and not on campus conditioning during the Summer. The big powerhouses were full time programs ordering players to volunteer to remain on campus for the Summer. I think this years situation will be harder for them to adapt toward being productive and could work to the Hoosiers advantage. I think as ‘tai’ something dynamic very well could be in store for the Badgers in Madison. Playing time is precious to capable players who are not stars and at home maybe their working harder.

    1. Most players have stayed in Bloomington for the summer dating back to the Mal years.

      1. I can’t wait to see the various promo photos for bring the NBA to Disney…

        Steph Curry and Klay Thompson riding a steep waterfall at ‘Splash (Brothers) Mountain?’
        LeBron: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?”
        Mirror: “Watch ”The Last Dance’ and you will see the greatest of them all.”
        James Harden arrives at “It’s a Small World”….”It’s my offense, after all…It’s my offense, after all. Why should I pass you the ball? It’s a small world after all.”

      2. ‘Most’ is a pretty loose specific. I know into the Hep/Lynch years it was no where near compulsory. Although they did successfully make the turn successfully.

        1. If you wanted to play, it was basically a requirement. The coaches knew who was around and who put in the work, and those were the guys on the field in the fall. Very unusual for most guys to not be in town all summer, and it was almost always a job or school deal that kept them away.

  5. Show of Scoop hands: How many of our regular Scoopsters actually believe we will have a college football season?
    South Korea now experiencing new sizable spikes in Covid-19. Much of the South/Southeast experiencing increasing numbers….California Bay Area recording the largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in weeks….?

    Relaxing of social distancing doesn’t seem to suggest the disease is evaporating into the warm late spring sun.

    And then the prospect of college football without fans? That’s not college football.
    Disney World NBA games? Can we play college basketball at Disney World, too? Does this mean a date with Cinderella as a Cinderella? Not to mention, IU Basketball has never left ‘Tomorrowland’ since 1987. Tom Crean: “Because it’s Dopey”….? Nothing like bringing sports to a fantasy place sitting atop a swamp…? Wait, that is sports.

    1. H4H,

      I will put it to you from a different perspective, if we do not have a return to normal activities by football season, we will have far greater things to worry about than the virus. I’m not saying reasonable precautions should not be utilized but if we don’t get back running we are going to lose lives to the shut down than the virus would have ever claimed. We had this discussion several weeks ago, but a great deal more information is coming out.

      It come as a shock to those who have limited information sources but in addition to the psychological impact of a prolonged shut down there are serious other health concerns. The biggest of these are the catastrophic level of postponed preventative procedures occurring. The reason why the current national insurance law promotes preventative procedures so heavily is that they work. Does anyone here realize how many cancer screenings are done every month in this country?

      I will leave it to everyone to follow the logical conclusion of preventative procedures being considered non-essential or elective and therefore postponed. Many of these postponements have occurred because patients are too frightened to even go to their physician. I’m only talking about one segment of many diseases, each of which, take far more lives every year than COVID 19.

  6. To answer your question H4H, if we continue to be a society afraid of living and dying with the virus I don’t see having a season. However, with enough people understand death is part of life and some times terrible things happen harming many people then will will have a season with some modifications for fans.

    I talk to people in my small town and most see this virus as something we have to get through not something to avoid by being shutdown. Maybe it is my personality that lead me to the Marines and now lead to not be afraid of this virus. If my precautions don’t keep me from getting it, I am not afraid to die as I have lived a full life until my spinal disability. I have had many good things in life, married to the same woman for 35 years, two children still living near us, and two granddaughters we get to see often. I have see secrets of the world and our own country while a Marine. I got to teach some wonderful, and some less that wonderful, students, coaching football teams to the state championship three times winning two of them. Even though I would like to live into my nineties if death comes sooner I won’t have a problem accepting it.

    I do worry about our country as our society seems to be getting too soft and taking a wrong direction. I saw the same thing in the 1920s, that was corrected by the great depression followed by WWII. Maybe this virus is our depression but I hope we don’t have to suffer like my grandparents did during the depression and seeing their sons go off to a war that a lot didn’t come back from.

    Back to football, I hope IU’s experienced team comes back showing they still had a chip on their shoulders causing them to work even harder while away. I think the coaches took a good approach to impress upon the players that they had to be responsible for their workouts and where they will stand when getting back to the team.

    1. Are you guys politicians? I asked for a simple answer.
      Will we have college football this fall? Yes or No.
      And if you answer ‘Yes’ and choose to elaborate, do you predict substantial imposed limitations on crowd/fan numbers?

      From my perspective (especially in light of the recent spikes where things have opened up…along with continued food plant outbreaks where crowding of workers is inevitable), basketball offers a much more practical return to participation. It’s a roster/staff/media numbers thing…along with crowd size control and screening practicality. I also think limited fans is far less a shock to the eyes of basketball viewers than the wide camera angles showing empty or 2/3 empty college football stadiums.

      1. Okay H4H,

        I’ll give you a close to straight answer. I think the odds are better than 50/50 (probably around 75%) there will be college football this year. Failure to have season will create an economic Tsunami that will virtually wipe out college athletics. From what I understand there are a lot of very complicated contractual obligations which, barring a greater outbreak than we’ve had, will make it very hard to shut down the season.

      2. H4H, YES

        a look at IU’s defense by Bill Connely https://iuhoosiers.com/news/2020/5/…nas-defense-could-be-among-big-tens-best.aspx

        Bill does a great job with the breakdown of teams and the stats. He has IU #1 in returning stats in the B1G. I think we all know that doesn’t mean IU will have the best defense in the B1G but should have one of the best improved defense. The Bowl game gave us a peek at what the defense can do this year against a team that threatened the best teams in the SEC.

  7. Jon Blau, the questions I wrote in my above post were rhetorical. I’ve read all the stories about Hendershot, the new grad transfer tight end, etc. that were published in Hoosier Sports Report, IndyStar.com and The Dailey Hoosier. My point is, since when does an IU FB coaching staff assume that an athlete charged with four misdemeanor crimes will return to the team? Especially when one of the crimes involves violence or the threat of violence against a female? I’m all for due process and the presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty in a court of law. I really hope Hendershot is found not guilty. But if not, IMO he should not play FB in 2020.

  8. Couple options: 1. virtual games played on computer and of course you have to pay to play, or 2. play games and make visiting fans stay underneath the stadium seats/bleachers, 3. Say the heck with it and are you ready for some football. (Modification before game…do a fly over or use a huge crane over stadium thoroughly covering it with a Lysol mist plus spraying all covered inside areas of stadiums including locker rooms , concessions etc. Added cost off set can be taken from coaching, administrative salaries, money made on player names, and other areas across board from the highest paid to the lowest. (Highest paid would pay much more than the lowest paid). It could be called “The Sacrifice to Save College Football Act” by those who financially benefit the most.

  9. Another sterile option could be based on a contraption based on what they use to clean and sterilize a person’s CPAP sleep machine.

  10. I can always rely on ‘t’ for the best answer…A flyover of Lysol mist gave me a chuckle. “I love the smell of ‘fresh linen’ in the morning….” Games will now have the potential to actually end in “sudden death?”

    Will Lysol Disinfecting Wipes sponsor a bowl game…? Players will be paid under the table to wear ‘Clorox’ logos?

    Of course, I still like filtration & purification system provided by 3M’s ‘Air Jordan. ‘

    Lastly, will Boise State’s field turn from that horrific blue to appropriate green after too heavy a treatment of pregame surface bleaching?

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