Indiana let one slip away last Saturday against No. 8 Cincinnati and now sits at 1-2 on the season. Is it time to panic? Or has Indiana just played a tough schedule?
In this week’s roundtable discussion, the Hoosier Network’s football crew Griffin Gonzalez, Jack Ankony and William McDermott answer the most important questions ahead of Indiana’s road trip to Western Kentucky.
Western Kentucky leads all of college football in passing and third down conversions. How can Indiana stop this high-flying attack?
Griffin: Indiana just needs to do what it does best. While Western Kentucky sure is talented when it comes to throwing the football, the Hilltoppers haven’t faced a defense quite like Indiana’s quite just yet. I expect them to make some plays but throwing over the top will be extremely difficult with Indiana’s Secondary.
Jack: Indiana gets Devon “Monster” Matthews back from injury this week, which is a boost for the secondary. Western Kentucky likes to throw a lot of different formations and even trick plays at its opponents, so communication will be crucial. The Hilltoppers had eight different receivers catch a pass last week, which means Indiana’s secondary needs to be locked in, but pressure from guys like Ryder Anderson and Jaren Handy will make the secondary’s job a little easier.
William: Indiana’s secondary came into the season as one of the best in the Big Ten and has been lacking one of the things that made this IU defense so good last year: interceptions. The Hoosiers got their first one of the season last week against Cincinnati. Having Devon Matthews back should help but the secondary really just needs a complete full 60-minute performance.
Tom Allen said Michael Penix Jr. is Indiana’s quarterback moving forward, but after three more interceptions against Cincinnati, would you make a change?
Jack: No. Penix has not looked anywhere near as dangerous this season compared to 2021, but that does not mean there should be a change. Penix’s biggest problem has been decision making, which I think will naturally get better as the season goes on and he becomes more comfortable. Indiana’s ceiling is still much higher with Penix than with Jack Tuttle. And what did Tuttle really accomplish last year that makes so many Indiana fans think he’s the better option?
William: Gosh, this is a tough question that everyone is trying to answer this week. I’m going to say no, but the leash is very tight right now for the junior. If Penix has a rough go around in the first half I personally would pull him. But what do I know? I expect a rebound game for Penix and a high-scoring one.
Griffin: You cannot make a change and here is why: The upside with Penix is so much greater than the upside of Tuttle, even after factoring in the downsides. Not to mention we have seen Jack Tuttle in this offense and we have seen what he is capable of. Coaches have seen a lot more of both guys in practice and I assure you if they had any second guesses on either side, they would have made a change by now.
Ty Fryfogle had multiple drops against Cincinnati and has taken a back seat to DJ Matthews in the passing game this year. What can Indiana do to get its star receiver back in the mix?
William: Fryfogle was covered by one of the best corners in the country last week in Ahmad Gardner and that opened things up for DJ Matthews. I’m honestly more surprised by the lack of targets and production Miles Marshall has seen this season. The targets are there for Fryfogle but the catches and separation are not. Indiana needs to try to hit the receiver downfield more this season. That’s where the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year was almost unstoppable last year.
Griffin: Fryfogle can start by catching contested balls again. We have seen too many opportunities fall short because opportunities have quite literally slipped through his fingertips. He needs to take advantage of balls thrown his way and prove that he can bring this offense back to life when IU needs him to.
Jack: This might sound odd, but a slow start to the season could benefit Fryfogle’s production in later weeks. DJ Matthews has established himself as a legitimate threat with blazing speed, and Peyton Hendershot’s touchdown against Cincinnati will grab the attention of any defensive coordinator. This could free up Fryfogle for more one-on-one coverages, and the matchups going forward will be more favorable after facing Cincinnati’s All-American cornerback Sauce Gardner.
A road trip to Western Kentucky has the makings of a trap game for Indiana after playing Cincinnati and awaiting a trip to Penn State next week. What can Indiana do to avoid a letdown against the Hilltoppers?
Griffin: Let me be very clear, if Indiana played the way Indiana is capable of playing, this team would be undefeated right now. The problem is the offense has not lived up to expectations and the defense can only do so much to keep Indiana in these games. The Hoosiers need to collect themselves, find some swagger and have some fun playing football. When they do that, this team is pretty solid.
Jack: Indiana lacked killer instinct when it led Cincinnati 14-0 in the second quarter. If the Hoosiers get out to another quick lead against Western Kentucky, they have to keep their foot on the gas. Western Kentucky can score quickly at any moment, which means Indiana can’t get comfortable with any lead.
William: Finish. Similar to what Jack said. Take care of the ball, make good decisions and don’t look back.
A win for Indiana on Saturday would mean __?
Jack: The Hoosiers did their job. Starting the season with a 1-2 record means that this game is essentially a must-win for Indiana’s bowl aspirations. Yes, it’s hard to call any week four game a must-win, but Indiana’s schedule is shaping up to be absolutely brutal. They’ve faced two top-10 teams already and have ranked opponents scheduled for four of the next five games after Western Kentucky.
William: Confidence. Indiana has a very tough schedule coming up and a win against a bowl-capable team on the road would do a lot for the team heading into Happy Valley.
Griffin: This team is still in the hunt. Listen, even if you lose next week to Penn State, your three losses of the year are to three teams that are in the top 10 and they aren’t looking to go anywhere anytime soon. If the Hoosiers can just keep winning the games they are supposed to win, this team can still be pretty good.