IU o-line seeks to build off of Michigan performance

The motto for Indiana football is “love each other,” or “LEO.” But IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan wasn’t sure how much his linemen loved him after last Wednesday’s practice for Michigan.

“I think, to a man, all five starting offensive linemen were upset with me after Wednesday’s practice,” Sheridan said.

It’s not clear what exactly transpired between the starting offense and the scout team defense in that midweek practice, but IU coach Tom Allen described that day’s work as “mean,” “nasty,” and “physical.” Darren Hiller, the Hoosiers’ line coach, says it’s oftentimes true that scout-teamers will play one snap hard and then cruise, or “Cadillac,” as he likes to call it, but that’s not what IU’s coaches allowed a week ago.

Not with Michigan inbound.

“It was going to have to be a week where we exerted a lot of energy and we strained to finish,” IU left tackle Caleb Jones said. “Yeah, a lot of us offensive linemen might not have been too happy, but it definitely ended up giving us a really good result.”

In the end, the Hoosiers’ offensive line thanked Sheridan for the tough love. If a knock-down, drag-out fight with the scout team was necessary to break the curse of a 24-game losing skid to Michigan, no one was complaining.

There could be few complaints about IU’s offensive line Saturday, either. IU managed just 150 yards rushing in its first two contests, but there were 118 ground yards to be had in the Michigan win. While a talented edge-rusher in Kwity Paye caused some headaches, the Wolverines didn’t register a sack of quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

After a career-best passing effort, Penix was handed the game ball by Allen, but he immediately deferred. Penix faced his teammates and said he didn’t want to be “corny,” but that he wanted the o-line to have the ball. Especially after what they endured at practice.

“We pushed the offensive line to the extreme last week because we know the capability they have. We have a great offensive line here,” Penix said. “We just pushed them and made it a big emphasis to be physical. That’s what they showed when game time came up. They played their tails off.”

Their effort was encouraging. At the same time, the Hoosiers aren’t blowing one success out of proportion. Hiller recalled earning some praise from Allen the day after the game, but he somewhat shrugged it off.

“There’s still a lot of things we gotta get done,” Hiller responded.

He came into the season knowing there would be challenges. Because of COVID-19, IU’s offensive linemen had to practice blocking schemes standing six feet apart, which isn’t quite how it works on the field. On top of that, the Hoosiers had to replace Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn on the interior.

Hiller won’t accept excuses, because he can only assume every other Big Ten team had the same restrictions placed on them as the season approached. There was enough time to come together in fall camp, Hiller said, and IU just didn’t execute at a high level versus Penn State. Penix was, too often, under duress in the pocket.

“It was maybe a little rust. Our aiming points and some of our technique things weren’t very good,” Hiller said. “It allowed some breakdowns in what we are doing, especially in the run game. And I thought the Rutgers game, the second week, I thought we got a little bit better. And the Michigan game, I thought we got better.

“We’re not even close to where we need to be, and every single day is a challenge to be better.”

On the interior, in particular, Hiller called the Hoosiers a “work in progress.” While senior center Harry Crider has been solid, grad transfer Dylan Powell and redshirt freshman Mike Katic have been rotating at Crider’s former position of left guard. Katic missed the Michigan game due to injury, leaving those duties solely to Powell.

Hiller is hopeful Katic will be available for the road trip to Michigan State this weekend.

“I always tell them, the cream is going to rise to the top,” Hiller said, “and the guys who are playing the best will get the most snaps.”

As each week passes, the Hoosiers hope to improve, as they did last season. In 2019, Hiller and the line had to wade through injuries. Senior left tackle Coy Cronk went down and then-freshman Matthew Bedford was thrown into the fire. Stepaniak and Littlejohn also missed games, forcing Mackenzie Nworah into starts.

But somehow, the Hoosiers kept it together. And this year, they didn’t panic after a rocky start. Somehow, against a Michigan defensive line that features an NFL talent in Paye, IU didn’t allow a sack.

Much of the credit goes to Jones. Hiller said the 6-foot-8, 362-pound redshirt junior may have played his most complete game versus Michigan. At the same time, the quick release of Penix adds to the equation.

On what may be his most impressive pass of the year, Penix threaded a post route to senior receiver Whop Philyor on a third-and-11. He dropped the football between three Michigan defenders — and he dropped it in despite Paye coming off the edge with a full head of steam, having zipped right around Jones.

“If there’s one thing about Mike Penix, it’s that he’s going to get that ball out,” Jones said with a smile. “He’s a quick-release guy, and as a tackle, you can’t love him any less for that. The few plays where Kwity got around my edge and, yeah, you know, it wasn’t a clean pocket, but Mike was still able to deliver that ball and keep me without a sack on the stat sheet.

“I always appreciate him for that. I think the goal is just to keep striving and keep getting better every week so he’ll have all the time in the world to get that ball out.”

The goal is to keep Penix clean. But IU’s blockers also want to impose their will on the ground, as they did in the final five minutes of the Michigan win. All five of the closing minutes Saturday were drained without Penix having to complete a pass.

The o-line strained and finished, just as it did versus the scout-team defense last Wednesday.

“I was proud of the guys. We gotta do it again,” Sheridan said, looking ahead to Michigan State. “We haven’t gained a yard or scored a point this week. We’ll be coaching them hard (Tuesday) and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday leading up to the game, and we’re hopeful that it prepares them for the physicality and the toughness that Michigan State will bring.”

27 comments

  1. The better practice players are, the better the starting OL will play. IU’s OL needs to improve again this week to make IU an even better football team. When IU can depend on their OL as much as it does our QB, IU will be very hard to defeat. I want to see how the OL plays against MSU as it has a chance to really show more improvement with a DL that is bigger but not as active as Michigan’s.

  2. Glad to hear that Hiller is far from satisfied with his O-line. I am optimistic they will continue to improve every week.

    It will be interesting to see how the team’s success this year translates to recruiting. Will we flip any 3 and 4-star recruits for the class of 2021? Will IU sign more than 20 players for the next class? And I’d love to see IU get some more quality grad transfers. My guess is that there will be a lot of them coming from PAC-12 schools after this season. We don’t we’ll need another quarterback, I don’t think we need wide-receivers or running backs, but increasing depth for the Offensive and Defensive lines is always good, and we might need to get another Tight End.

  3. Sorry, that should have been “we won’t need another quarterback,”

    After reviewing IU’s 2020 roster, I’m reminded that we’re still a very young team! We have 5 seniors, 2 Grads, and 9 Redshirt Juniors. We’ll probably lose Scott, a true Junior, to the NFL. And some guys who are not likely to get any playing time may quit or transfer, but otherwise, especially with the talented freshman coming in, it looks like next year’s roster will be even stronger. I’m going togo out on a limb and say that IU will sign 17 freshman and pick up two Grad Transfers for the 2021 season.

  4. OSU should be well rested (not sure if that’s a positive or negative) and IU well scouted for November 21 game.

  5. New Mexico University moved their football team to a hotel near Vegas. Equipment, trainers and staff. $70,000 a week. New Mexico in nearly total lockdown due to increase of C-19. If they can complete their season (playing at UNLV stadium) they receive approx. $3.7 M from conference and NCAA. Strange but it’s 2020, what a year.

  6. Not sure how it stacks up against other really bad years, but IMO it’s certainly one of the worst years of my life. We had bad ones in the late 60’s, then there was the terrible 9/11, but you can make a strong argument for 2020 being the worst for America year since 1942.

  7. Yes it has been a bad year and China didn’t do what they should have to limit the virus from there and the WHO didn’t do their job very well either. Hopefully the vaccines are effective and will stop the spread of COVID19 – I wonder why the news didn’t come out until after the election or why CDC didn’t announce how they were doing until after the election although it is clear why.

  8. Prejudices regardless of facts and falsehoods no matter if they are clear as a bright sunny sky are the order for the day.

  9. V13, there’s nothing to wonder about. You know why the news didn’t come out until after the election. The American people have been and are being manipulated like never before.

    But don’t get too excited about getting the vaccine, because there are a lot of people in the incoming administration who believe the U.S.A. needs to share the supply of the vaccine with all other countries of the world. Forget that the USA paid to have it developed and tested, forget that we’ll pay to have it distributed. It’s only “fair” that many Americans have to wait in line until a significant portion of the vaccine is given to people in other countries. And according to Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, people over the age of 75, unless they’re one of the elites, may not be entitled to receive the vaccine because he questions “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”

    1. That is not true. Pfizer is working with German pharmaceutical company BioNTech to develop this vaccine. They have both shared in the cost and development of the vaccine. Quit listening to all the right wing propaganda. https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/09/covid-19-vaccine-from-pfizer-and-biontech-is-strongly-effective-early-data-from-large-trial-indicate/ Also, Pfizer did not take federal money from Operation Warp Speed to develop this vaccine. Also, the CDC has nothing to do with how the trial is going nor can or cannot report anything. Pfizer has been very transparent about their trial and have released information that normally is not share during the trial phase of a pharmaceutical. Also, it is not Pfier of BioNTech conducting the trial. This is always done by a third party so that the company cannot aritificially influence or manipulate the testing. The two companies have no idea of the 44,000 participants who got the vaccine and who got the placebo. The third party will share weekly information with the two companies on how the trial is going and if there are any concerns. If there is a red flag, the third party will advise the two companies and then they decide whether to proceed or temporarily stop the trial. There is nothing nefarious or underhanded going on with announcements. It is how the process works and technically Pfizer doesn’t have to share any of the information with the public they have shared so far. Also, the CDC would not be involved in any announcement of a vaccine that would be the FDA.

      1. More important than upfront $ they worked less encumbered by red tape removed by Warp Speed. Other than that your post is accurate.

  10. I believe I read the developers of the vaccine refused government money in an attempt to remain neutral – politically – hard to imagine but still….. It would be difficult to imagine the American public being more manipulated than has been the case in the last 4 dark years.

    It’s possible that we will have a leader who actually leads and listens to opposing ideas w/o calling names and attempting to degrade those who oppose. Kind of what we try to teach our kids how to act..

    1. …he hasn’t listened in 47 years…he has 0 accomplishments in 47 years of civil employment…

      1. Trumps accomplishments were known as bankruptcy protection and tax evasion.

        He was voted out. He just experienced “landslide” whiplash.
        His farcical lawsuits are being thrown out by every judge in the country. It’s time to pack the bags. Do a final lap in the SUV around the White House. Infect some more secret service agents. Ride off into the orange sunset melting into the orange hair. It’s over.

        1. Anyone else think Orange-a-Don didn’t look well in his first press conference since a week ago? It appeared the cotton candy hair had lost the styling touch of its cotton candy machine operator.
          I think the cardboard tube was even showing a bit….Sad, very sad.

      1. So what is your point. That’s smart making sure providing it to be feasible and safe holding some accountability and providing incentive to drug company. IU1992 are you in all those non transparent secretive highly classified meetings? Sure sounds like you are.

        1. No because it is a government contract which is public record and the payment structure is in the contract as well.

  11. Ron, you may be referring to leadership that will listen to opposing views as long as those opposing agree with that leaderships views.

  12. Corruption….? How about the corruption it takes to push a therapeutic, give the government 100s of millions in contracts, for a drug with barely more effectiveness than a placebo…and only suggested for mild to moderate cases?
    And, interestingly, the drug is coming from Pence’s home state and the guy under Trump serving as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services was recently president of the company headquartered in Indy slated to provide the marginally effective drug. Think anyone is lining their pockets?

  13. Unfortunately, the political standard for this country and other countries, groups, territories etc … the political NORM is that pockets are lined with perks, benefits etc usually for personal, family, close confidants, (business or entrepreneur) that equals multi millions for many political individuals = POWER or one is just not a very good politician.

  14. If people will get the vaccine for free, who is paying for it? Is this a charitable contribution from the pharmaceutical companies? Or did the U.S. government underwrite the cost of developing the vaccines? Once released, who will have paid for the development and distribution of the vaccines?

    And if other countries are paying a portion of the development costs, what percentage of the cost does that represent?

    1. From what I have read, again the US did not underwrite development cost, though Trump offered $1B to first proven developer for use by the US only. In this cse the offer was not taken Both EU & US have made previous contracts to buy the medication. Distribution – the developing company does not want to use the distributor our government wanted to use. Don’t know how that will work out. I’m sure the development/ distribution cost are built into the whatever the US, EU and other buyers will pay. (contribution from the pharmaceutical companies? chuckle chuckle)

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