Indiana leads Ball State 24-3 after a very efficient and workmanlike first half from the Hoosiers. Here are a few of my thoughts at the break:
Is IU’s offense unstoppable?
It sure looks like it. It’s not even a matter of the results, but the weapons Indiana has at its disposal. Sure, it’s three games in and this header is a hyperbole — but the Hoosiers appear to have their best offense since Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard were moving the chains in 2015. First things first, Peyton Ramsey has played yet another smart half of football. At the break, he’s 20-of-25 for 173 yards — and has made the correct decision on almost every play. Ball State has allowed Indiana to dink-and-dunk its way down the field, but there’s been no shortage of big plays as well. Whop Philyor took a jet sweep for 29 yards, freshman tight end Matt Bjorson caught a beautifully lofted ball for 22 more … and yeah, there’s J-Shun Harris, who I’ll get to in a minute.
All in all, and I’m sure I’ll write about this postgame, but it’s been a first half that you’d expect from a Big Ten school. Ball State was picked to finish last in the MAC West and is 1-15 in the MAC since 2016. Yes, the Cardinals have showed fight early on in 2018 — but they’re clearly inferior on paper to the Hoosiers. And IU has made that very apparent early on, something that is worth noting. Ball State has, indeed, won three of the last four matchups in this series.
There are three Big Ten teams losing to inferior opponents at halftime (Maryland vs. Temple … Rutgers at Kansas … and Nebraska to Troy). Indiana is not one of them, and it hasn’t been close.
One last nugget on random offensive happenings — Ronnie Walker Jr. saw his first action in the second quarter at running back. The true freshman didn’t record a carry or catch a pass, but he played — I swear! Fellow true freshman Stevie Scott (9 carries, 45 yards) will need some help there, at some point, and Walker could be the guy. It seems Indiana wants to limit Majette to blocking and receiving, so there are carries up for grabs. And it sure doesn’t look like they’ll be going to Ricky Brookins. Walker has an opportunity to emerge behind Scott.
It hasn’t been a beautiful first half from Indiana’s defense, but Ball State’s only managed a field goal, so obviously it can’t be that bad. Ball State marched down the field early on, including a field goal on its opening possession. The Cardinals also missed a 48-yarder. No takeaways thus far for the Hoosiers, but they’ve dug deep when needed. Indiana’s defensive line has also managed more pressure against Ball State quarterback Riley Neal than they have against Florida International and Virginia …. possibly combined. Neal has not been able to throw deep, he’s 9-of-18 for 73 yards and his longest pass is 13 yards. If Ball State comes back in this game, it’ll be because Neal has time and space to throw deep … and the Hoosiers struggle to contain him on the ground. Either or.
Three ACL tears can’t stop, nor slow down J’Shun Harris. Indiana’s punt returner took an 85-yard punt return to the house to give Indiana a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. It’s Harris’ third-career punt return for a touchdown, which ties the program record. Sure, it’s Ball State, and yeah, Harris appears to only be taking punt returns for the Hoosiers, but it’s an element of the game that IU really benefited from last season before his injury.
Indiana also blocked a Ball State punt, and nearly blocked the one Harris took for a score. After Harris got past two Ball State defenders, he practically waltz into the endzone with four IU teammates surrounding him, and only the BSU punter to beat. Like I said, it’s something to keep an eye on. Harris, no matter what, is a game-changer when it comes to punts. If he stays healthy and provides field position during 2018, it’s an added dimension to an already impressive IU attack.