Indiana is without its leader on the field. It will be for the rest of the year.
Senior left tackle Coy Cronk will have surgery for his lower leg injury. He’ll miss the rest of the season.
“I get out there and he grabs me and he’s like, ‘It’s way too far from my heart to kill me,'” head coach Tom Allen said of when he met Coy Cronk on the field Saturday.
While Cronk will miss the season, it’s not a career-ending injury. The NFL Draft is still in Cronk’s future, whether he chooses to enter this year or return for a fifth year at IU. Cronk is within the four-game requirement to take a redshirt, but that’s not a decision Allen nor Cronk have thought much about this soon after the injury.
“Simon (Stepaniak) and I were both were very effected by it just cause of the relationship we’ve built with him,” fifth-year center Hunter Littlejohn said. “I think we both got a pretty good view of the injury too so I was a little shaken up by that. But he handled it like an absolute champ.”
As IU prepares to leave Indiana for the first time, to face one of the nation’s best defenses in No. 25 Michigan State, it has questions not only at quarterback, but at the most important position on the offensive line. It will thrust inexperience into the starting lineup in the first true road game.
Either true freshman Matthew Bedford or fifth-year DaVondre Love will take over as the fifth man. Love was Allen’s immediate replacement Saturday against UConn, but he took the right tackle spot while Caleb Jones shifted across to left tackle. Bedford came into the game late and took the left tackle spot, shifting Jones back to the right side.
“It’s way too far from my heart to kill me.”
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 23, 2019
“So you can look at it one of two ways, you can say does that concern you or does that excite you,” Allen said. “And to me it excites me about the opportunity that it’s going to present for somebody to step up and grow because you really find out a lot about somebody during these opportunities.”
Michigan State’s run defense is allowing just 52.3 yards per game this season, tied for the third-best mark in the country. Its 228.3 total yards per game allowed is the fifth-best nationally.
For a running game that had already struggled to find traction until UConn, facing Michigan State on the road was already going to be one of IU’s biggest challenges even with Cronk. That obstacle escalates now.
Despite being a fifth-year, Love has only played in 14 games. Saturday against UConn was Bedford’s collegiate debut. Someone is getting thrown into the fire immediately.
And frankly it may be both Love and Bedford. It may even include Aiden Rafferty. Allen said there will be a rotation on the offensive line. IU’s depth will get a chance to showcase who is best suited to fill the remaining spot, but against Michigan State, that transition won’t be smooth.
Behind the offensive line, and for the third straight week, there is uncertainty at quarterback. Making this week different, Michael Penix is nearing a return. The redshirt freshman quarterback will return to practice and will throw this week after two weeks of being sidelined. But IU is going to work him back in slowly.
“We don’t want to jeopardize Mike’s health,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “We don’t want to have him set back. I know he’s made a lot of progress over the last two weeks. We’re going to have him where he’s at. I’m looking forward to seeing him more and more in practices.”
Peyton Ramsey has started two straight games in place of Penix. He bounced back from his performance against Ohio State, throwing for 247 yards and three touchdowns against UConn.
If Penix can’t go, Ramsey provides the more experienced option. Penix has never started a true road game. The only time he’s ever played away from Memorial Stadium was against FIU in the 2018 season opener and against Ball State in 2019 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If he isn’t at 100%, Allen said he isn’t going to play him. Having a bye week after Michigan State provides an extra week to get back to full strength.
“Because of having the bye afterwards there’s no doubt that would give you an extended period of time,” Allen said. “But my approach will be if he’s ready to go then he’s going to go. If he’s not, then I would feel really confident that he would be ready after the bye week.”
Players such as junior Michael Zimeba prefer going on the road to playing at home. It gives a chance to get fired up by a crowd rooting against you, and in Ziemba’s case, often pronouncing his last name wrong. This week, IU will face it’s second top-25 team in three weeks, and arguably the best defense it will face all season.
The Michigan State team, and certainly not the fans, won’t care much for IU’s injuries.
“I’ve been around long enough where no one is going to feel sorry for you,” DeBoer said. “Michigan State’s not going to feel sorry for us when we step on the field Saturday and we’re not either.”