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‘They had to grow up fast’: IU’s expanded depth on full display in 38-10 win

IU true freshman tailback Ronnie Walker Jr. proved to be a capable backup Saturday. (Mark Timko/HN)

A season ago, Tom Allen stood at his postgame podium and admitted that his team’s depth was not where it needed to be. The Hoosiers suffered multiple injuries early in the season and Allen was in the midst of recruiting his first class as Indiana’s head coach.

Fast-forward to Saturday’s 38-10 domination of Ball State, and Allen is encouraged with IU’s depth and ecstatic about his freshman class.

“I just think it’s a long list of guys that we’ve got,” Allen said postgame. “And almost too many for me to even think of off the top of my head. They’re guys we’re going to need, and they had to grow up fast. They’re not true freshmen anymore. They’ve already played three games. So they’re veterans.”

There are very few, if any, sure-things with this Indiana program — not a season opener at Florida International, a swim meet against Virginia, or a pesky in-state opponent in Ball State. After a resounding 38-10 win against the Cardinals on Saturday, the Hoosiers have passed all three tests. Indiana began playing football in 1887, and the Hoosiers are 3-0 for only the 17th time in school history.

Indiana finished off its navigation of a tricky non-conference slate with its most impressive victory of the season. Saturday’s win was efficient and complete. Ball State marched down the field on the game’s opening possession for a field goal, and IU responded with 31 unanswered points. On a day when multiple Big Ten teams struggled, Indiana did not. Peyton Ramsey was as smart as a quarterback can be. Stevie Scott backed up last weekend’s heroics with another 100-yard game. Fellow true freshman Ronnie Walker Jr. may have just emerged behind him, and J-Shun Harris announced his comeback from his third ACL tear with an electrifying 86-yard punt return score.

“Huge to get the first three,” Allen said postgame. “And really proud of the way we did it. The way the offense did some great things week one. Defense really came back, week two, sealed the win. Week three all three phases came together and played well. So that’s what you’ve got to do, so that has to continue.”

Allen knows how brutal his schedule is about to be. In the next three weeks, Indiana faces Michigan State and Ohio State — with Rutgers sandwiched in between. There are indeed eight wins on this schedule, and Indiana could reach its ceiling with the depth and talent it showed against Ball State.

There was a point in Saturday’s win where Indiana featured the most offensive speed in recent memory — with Reese Taylor at running back and J-Shun Harris and Whop Philyor at receiver with Michael Penix at quarterback. Ramsey has an abundance of versatile weapons at his disposal, making life easier for the now-seasoned redshirt sophomore. Ramsey completed 20-of-27 passes for 173 yards.

Penix, meanwhile, entered on the second drive of the second half and proved again to be a competent second-option behind Ramsey. Walker scored from 18 yards out on his first collegiate carry to give Indiana a 31-3 lead midway through the third quarter. There are available carries behind Scott, and Walker appears to be a viable option.

“I just feel like a guy like Ronnie came here and had a little bit of hype coming in,” Allen said. “In some ways, a lot of the stuff was overwhelming for him. So it’s great to see him settle in and really kind of show the twitch and the burst and the balance that you saw in high school. He’s running with that confidence.”

On the defensive side of the ball, true freshman defensive end James Head (two tackles, one for loss) flashed his potential in his first action for the Hoosiers. Indiana’s defense bent, but did not break on Saturday. At linebacker, there are suddenly options with Dameon WillisMicah McFadden, Thomas Allen, T.D. Roof, and the continued emergence of Raekwon Jones.

“It gets guys to have a break and remain fresh,” Jones said. “Ultimately it gives everyone a lot of experience, so when it comes late in the season, you don’t have to worry about someone who hasn’t played. It creates momentum.”

The tests will get tougher, starting on Saturday night in prime time against the Spartans. Indiana’s defense will have to play better than it did in Week 1, its offense better than it did in Week 2. But if the Hoosiers can replicate the formula shown against Ball State, IU might have the depth to upset.

“This freshman class is extremely talented. They’re a group of great kids and really dedicated to this. They came in day one wanting to learn and wanting to get on the field. That’s just one reason why they’re out there. They do everything it takes and have really stepped up. It’s important that they keep stepping up because we’re going to keep throwing them out there.”

Teddy Bailey

I am a senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. Prior to joining The Hoosier Network, I spent two seasons covering IU Athletics for the Indianapolis Star alongside Zach Osterman after becoming the Sports Editor of the Indiana Daily Student as a freshman. While I found myself studying Italian in Florence this past summer, I interned with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 — my hometown paper. In case you want to talk cheesesteaks or the Philadelphia 76ers, you can find me on Twitter, @ByTeddyBailey.

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