The second game of Greg Schiano’s second tenure is no doubt a bigger game than anyone expected before the season began. Indiana comes to Piscataway after stunning then no. 8 Penn State and are now ranked for just the second time in the past 25 years at no. 17. Rutgers shocked the Big Ten by defeating Michigan State and look to continue to surprise at home this weekend. Whichever team wins will begin the 2020 season at 2-0 and at the top of the Big Ten East standings.
In an effort to better understand the challenge ahead that Indiana presents, I spoke with Mike Schumann at The Daily Hoosier. Here are five questions on this week’s opponents that resulted in some valuable insight from Mike on the current state of Indiana football.
Is the rebuild that Tom Allen has done with Indiana football a surprise and is there hope that he can solidify the program in the top half of the Big Ten long term?
Is it a surprise? I guess that would depend on who you ask.
There were many fans who were upset when Indiana hired Allen when Kevin Wilson “resigned” back in late 2016. Allen had no college head coaching experience and many thought IU was just being cheap rather than conducting a national search.
On the other hand, Allen dramatically turned around the Indiana defense in his one year as DC under Wilson, and inside the program he became well liked and respected. In many ways he was the logical choice.
Now I think most believe Allen is the right guy to keep IU in the top half of the league. The school certainly does after giving him a new $27 million contract after an 8-5 2019 season. Allen has the program recruiting at a high level, and wins such as Penn State last weekend and at Nebraska last year seem to indicate that he can get teams ready to play and win on a big stage.
Of course things are always fluid. Rutgers hired a great coach. Maryland is recruiting better. Getting into the upper half and staying there are two different things.
What were the keys to the victory over Penn State and how different are expectations for the season after just one game?
The biggest key to victory was probably how well the defense played. IU held what many expected to be a potent Penn State offense to just 7 points until the last play of the third quarter. That gets lost in a 36-35 final score, and the defensive effort ultimately allowed Indiana to survive a miserable day on the offensive side of the ball. Indiana produced three first half takeaways, which led to a 17-7 lead at the break.
Another key to victory was undeniably luck. If Penn State, up 21-20 with under two minutes left in the game and the ball deep in Indiana territory, just falls to the ground rather than score a touchdown, it would have been game over. Instead, a 28-20 PSU lead turned into their worst nightmare.
That’s where the offense finally came into the game as a key to victory. In the final 1:37 plus one overtime, IU scored two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. Quarterback Michael Penix was spectacular during that stretch after playing bad throughout the first 58 minutes of the game.
With much of the same personnel back on offense, how much do you expect this unit to improve this season?
The offense has a big question mark, and it was exposed against Penn State.
IU lost key offensive linemen on the interior from the 2019 team, and its overall depth up front is not great. Penn State’s pass rush made things very hard for Penix, who hadn’t played in a game in over a year after season ending surgery.
Penix is a spectacular quarterback with an NFL caliber arm, and several high-end skill position players are back including wide receiver Whop Philyor, tight end Peyton Hendershot and running back Stevie Scott.
But as we know, skill position guys can often only go as far as the offensive line, and Indiana started the game last weekend with 7 of 8 drives going for 22 yards or less, and then 3 of the next 4 going for 11 yards or less.
This was much the same personnel that put 462 yards on a better Penn State defense in Happy Valley last year. And that leads to another open question — the play-caller. Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan is in his first year in that role — and his debut didn’t go well.
I think many are interested to see how the unit looks this weekend, with a week under their belt, and playing against a team that, at least on paper, is a notch or two below Penn State.
What are the strengths of the Indiana defense and key players to know?
What I like about Indiana’s defense right now is that they have high level talent at all three levels along with a fair amount of depth. Virtually everyone from the Indiana defense that pitched a shutout against Rutgers last year is back.
The defensive line is much improved with more experience and an important graduate transfer. While last year the defensive line was a question mark, this year it seems like it could be a strength. Tackles Jerome Johnson, Sio Nofoagatoto’a, Demarcus Elliott, and Jovan Swann might be the best two-deep group this team has had in a long time. Things aren’t as clear at defensive end where IU needs to generate a better edge pass rush, but both starting ends are experienced veterans.
Micah McFadden has first team All-Big Ten potential at linebacker, and Cam Jones is a high level talent as well. Both players bring speed from their position and are experienced in the system.
At corner sophomore Tiawan Mullen is one of the best in the Big Ten, and Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor help form a talented trio.
The safety/husky group of Devon Matthews, Jamar Johnson and Bryant Fitzgerald are highly experienced. Johnson was the Big Ten co-defensive player of the week against Penn State. The depth in this group has been impacted by injuries but is still strong at the top.
What is your prediction for the game?
A big concern is refocusing after a big win. Rutgers’ win over Michigan State probably helps both because it got Indiana’s attention, and Rutgers has to come back down to earth too.
I realize Rutgers isn’t the toughest of road environments, but no fans in the stands should help.
Greg Schiano got everyone’s attention last weekend, but I’m not sure he has the roster to keep winning on any kind of consistent basis just yet.
I think Indiana’s offense comes to life in this one and pulls out a win.
Let’s go with 38-24, Hoosiers.
Thanks to Mike for his great insight on Indiana football ahead of Saturday’s matchup against Rutgers. You can read more on IU athletics at The Daily Hoosier and to read my answers to Mike’s questions on Rutgers heading into week 2, click here.