In week one, Ball State stacked the box against IU’s offense looking to contain 1,000-yard rusher Stevie Scott and instead force Michael Penix, in his first career start, to throw.
It worked, and it’s been a strategy copied by Eastern Illinois and Ohio State in consecutive weeks.
And it’s surprised Tom Allen.
“When you come back and you’re like Stevie, there’s so much emphasis on taking him away,” Allen said. “So, that’s what they’ve been over determined to do.”
So far, it’s worked. Scott has just 125 yards on 37 carries this season. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per rush.
Scott is coming off a game against Ohio State where he nine yards. Nine total yards. He’s running behind an offensive line in need a of reprieve. During his weekly radio show, Allen said his two younger starters, Caleb Jones and Harry Crider, were “baptized” against Ohio State. His senior left tackle, Coy Cronk, and two fifth-year interior men, Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn, haven’t had the success expected of such an experienced group.
“The bottom line is, I do feel like we have not gotten a lot of separation up front, so the push off the football,” Allen said. “And to me, (we need to) create structural answers to make them pay for over-loading us.”
It may be why a game against UConn, a team ranked among the worst in the FBS, couldn’t come at a better time.
IU is favored by 27.5 points against UConn on Bovada to close out one of the nation’s weakest non-conference schedules.
With Big Ten play looming a week away, UConn is one final weak opponent to clean up mistakes. Missed tackles remained — worsened, in fact — against Ohio State. The running game is yet to find traction, top receivers lack production and yet again, there is uncertainly under center.
Penix, once again, is a game-time decision. Allen said Penix is still day-to-day at this point, and he plans to learn more Friday and Saturday morning in the lead up to the game which will determine his status.
The expectation is Peyton Ramsey will be the starting quarterback. He’s prepared as such.
IU had 16 players miss tackles for 166 yards last week, regressing back to the performance against Ball State.
Allen said Monday that he didn’t want missed tackles to become a weekly update. In the fourth game week of the season, it’s become just that.
Though while it’s easy to say IU just needs to clean up mistakes against a weak opponent, it isn’t necessarily that simple.
IU has entered every game this season looking to clean up mistakes. It faced Ball State looking to patch up mistakes in fall camp as the offense put its new system in a game for the first time. It took the field against Eastern Illinois needing to clean up missed tackles. Against Ohio State, IU still needed the tackling to improve, and searched for the running game to reach the expectations such a deep group provided.
And against UConn, it’s the same issues, again.
IU leaves Indiana for the first time next week to play Michigan State. After UConn, the chances to face a weak opponent as a chance to rebound vanish. Rutgers may serve as the only let up in a daunting conference schedule.
It’s why in a season where IU has perpetually been fixing mistakes that this game is so important. It’s the last time IU will be favored by such a margin. It’s the last opponent on IU’s schedule of a significantly lower caliber.
It may not matter who’s playing quarterback this week. IU likely won’t need Penix to win, or at least it shouldn’t. Instead IU needs to see a bounce back, to take the kind of jump it did between Ball State and Eastern Illinois. It might not have that chance again.
“First couple weeks, worked through things,” Allen said, “but I expect us to kind of settle down a little this week here and get back into our flow of where we want to be.”