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More questions than answers for IU backfield as depth takes hit with Baldwin transfer

After Raheem Layne returned an interception deep into Nittany Lion territory, Indiana had a chance to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. But on fourth-and-1 from the 4-yard line, Stephen Carr was stuffed. The Hoosiers wouldn’t sniff the end zone for the rest of the night. 

Indiana’s struggles in the run game have been well documented – ranking 13th in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers are averaging just 122.2 rushing yards per game. And things may have just gotten worse.

Following Indiana’s 24-0 loss to Penn State, backup running back Tim Baldwin Jr. entered the transfer portal. Indiana has now lost its top three running backs from the 2020 season.

In addition to losing Baldwin, Stevie Scott signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent and is now on the Denver Broncos. Sampson James transferred to Purdue just weeks before the 2021 season. 

“The bottom line is this is a football team,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “I want guys that are all in, bought in and ready to do whatever is necessary in whatever their role might be.” 

On Monday, Allen said two factors of football reveal who players really are: time and pressure. When faced with pressure, certain traits can be exposed. While Indiana’s depth in the running back room took a hit, Allen said it gives them a chance to recognize who they can count on when faced with adversity. 

Baldwin rushed for 108 yards on 28 attempts this season before entering the transfer portal, but saw his workload diminish in part due to ball security issues. Indiana had a chance to take the lead with eight minutes left against Cincinnati, but Baldwin fumbled the ball inside the 5-yard line.

This led to more game action for a pair of redshirt juniors, Chris Childers and Davion Ervin-Poindexter, who have averaged 5.3 and 7.1 yards per rush, respectively. Neither Childers nor Ervin-Poindexter have more than eight carries this season, but they’ve taken on a larger role in pass-blocking scenarios.

Luckily for Allen and the Hoosiers, Carr chose to transfer from USC to Indiana before the season, stepping in as the starter from game one. Carr has gained 410 yards on 102 attempts this season, scoring three touchdowns along the way. 

Carr’s decision to transfer to Indiana is in large part due to his relationship with running backs coach Deland McCullough. McCullough was the running backs coach at USC during Carr’s freshman season where he rushed for 363 yards and three touchdowns on 65 carries. 

But with sudden turnover in the running back room, Indiana’s depth has been severely compromised. Allen noted that freshman David Holloman and redshirt freshman Charlie Spegal will have a chance to increase their roles. Allen said as Indiana’s depth is challenged, he will look to players who are smart, tough and dependable in replacement. 

More concerning than Indiana’s struggles to run the ball this season is perhaps the future of the running back position. Carr used his fifth year of eligibility to transfer to Indiana, but he’ll be gone in 2022, leaving a hole in the backfield.

In July, Indiana gained the commitment from Gi’Bran Payne, a four-start running back recruit out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Standing at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Payne is ranked as the No. 244 recruit in the class of 2022, according to 247Sports Composite. 

Asking a freshman running back to step into the physical Big Ten as a lead back might be a stretch, but at this point, Indiana has more questions than answers in the backfield.

“That’s what we’re figuring out as this process goes through,” Allen said. “That’s what adversity does.”

My name is Jack Ankony and I am a senior from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I have covered the Indiana football team the last two seasons, and my work with HN started on the baseball and women's basketball beats. I love to write and talk about sports.

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