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Indiana's wide receiving corps has set records this year. But how does it compare to past groups at IU?

Indiana punted four times and turned the ball over on downs once in the first quarter versus Ohio State. Slow starts have become a theme in many of Indiana’s games this season, but with the weapons at Michael Penix Jr.’s disposal, it’s hard to keep the Hoosier offense down for too long.

Early on in the second quarter, Penix dropped back to pass and delivered a strike to sophomore receiver Miles Marshall. Marshall was nearly able to get past his defender for a touchdown, but the 68-yard reception showed a sign of life from the Indiana offense.

“We came out kind of slow so I think that kickstarted the offense,” Marshall said. “I know there were a lot of guys on the sideline saying, ‘We needed that,’ and I’m really mad because I didn’t score, but it’s all right.”

Marshall said Penix’s ability to look down the field, while also noticing the pass rush and stepping up in the pocket to deliver a laser throws, makes the Hoosiers trust Penix in any situation.

“He’s just an NFL quarterback,” Marshall said. “It’s just amazing to see.”

Penix is a big reason for Indiana’s success this season, but it is important to not overlook the weapons he has at his disposal.

Whop Philyor is coming off a 1,002-yard junior season and has picked up where he left off. Philyor’s speed and agility immediately stand out when watching him play. Because of this, Indiana is able to use him in short passing situations like screens and slants, but also take shots over the top of the defense to create explosive plays.

This versatility has been on display in two standout performances for Philyor. In Indiana’s win over Rutgers, Philyor made the most of each reception, hauling in five catches for 137 yards. Philyor converted a few key third downs for Indiana in its 38-21 win over Michigan, catching 11 passes for 79 yards.

Going into the season, Philyor was viewed as the team’s No. 1 option, but Ty Fryfogle has emerged to challenge Philyor as the team’s best receiver.

After a monster performance versus Ohio State, Fryfogle became the first player in Big Ten history to record two consecutive games with over 200 receiving yards. Over the past three games, Fryfogle has 25 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Fryfogle’s 6-foot-2 frame allows him to succeed in multiple ways. Head coach Tom Allen said Fryfogle’s ability to fight for the football, make contested catches and run after the catch are some of his best qualities.

“There’s a lot of hand-fighting that goes on and he’s just got so much body control,” Allen said. “Some guys have a knack for that and he does and they had a hard time stopping him.”

Marshall has developed quickly in his two seasons as a Hoosier, already surpassing his freshman year receiving yard total this season. Marshall was a three-star recruit out of Georgia, and standing at 6-feet-4, he has been impressive in jump-ball scenarios.

Marshall overcame a defensive pass interference call to score Indiana’s first touchdown of the game over Michigan cornerback Gemon Green. The sophomore receiver has been a consistent option for Penix, with at least three receptions each game.

Indiana’s playmakers on the outside form a dangerous trio and beg an important question. How does this Indiana receiving corps compare to past groups at Indiana? Let’s take a look back at the history books and review some of the best receiving corps in Indiana football history.

1987: Ernie Jones, Kenny Allen, Tim Jorden

Ernie Jones is really the only reason this group makes the list, which speaks to how good he was wearing the cream and crimson. Jones holds the Indiana record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,265. When Jones set this record in 1987, he was also the first receiver to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. This wasn’t the only record Jones set in 1987, though.

Jones was named Big Ten Player of the Year, leading the conference in touchdowns with 13, receptions with 66 and receiving yards. The 1,265 receiving yards were also tops in the NCAA that season.

With Jones as such a dominating player for Indiana, the Hoosiers didn’t need much additional help. Kenny Jones was the No. 2 option for Dave Schnell through the air, racking up 251 yards and a touchdown, but he underperformed in his upperclassman years after a 55-catch, 929-yard season in 1985.

Tight end Tim Jorden rounds out a receiving corps that, other than Jones, didn’t need to do much for Indiana’s offense. Jorden was a reliable safety blanket while at IU, playing in 47 games with 680 receiving yards. Running back Anthony Thompson, who finished second in Heisman voting, commanded a significant workload in 1987, making the receivers besides Jones less important.

2002: Courtney Roby, Glenn Johnson

Courtney Roby was just the second receiver since Ernie Jones in 1987 to pass 1,000 receiving yards. His sophomore season in 2002 was Roby’s breakout campaign with 1,039 yards, and although he didn’t get back to the 1,000-yard mark as a junior or senior, he is second in all-time receiving yards at Indiana with 2,524.

Roby went on to be a third-round pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2005 NFL Draft, and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career. Indiana was not good in 2002, finishing with a 3-9 record, but Roby was definitely a bright spot.

Glenn Johnson formed one of the conference’s best duos with Roby in 2002, nearly equaling Roby in receptions. Johnson finished the season with 837 yards and was a big reason Indiana outgained opponents through the air by an average of 60.9 yards per game.

2007: James Hardy, Ray Fisher, Andrew Means

James Hardy is Indiana’s career leader in receiving yards with 2,740 in his four-year career. Hardy’s best season came in his senior season in 2007 when he hauled in 79 receptions for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hardy was a model of consistency for Indiana, averaging at least 14 yards per reception in each of his four seasons.

Hardy was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. In 2017, Hardy suffered a tragic death when his body was found in the Maumee River in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His death was ruled a suicide. It will take a truly special receiver to pass Hardy’s record as Indiana’s all-time leading receiver.

Ray Fisher and Andrew Means completed what was a very deep receiving corps for the Hoosiers in 2007. Fisher caught 52 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns. Means had 559 receiving yards in the regular season, but he and the Hoosiers were stymied in the 2007 Insight Bowl by a score of 49-33.

Previous Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner died in June of 2007, and was replaced by Bill Lynch. Lynch coined Indiana’s motto “Play 13,” in reference to its goal of a bowl appearance for the first time since 1993. While Indiana lost this game, the receiving corps was certainly a strong suit for the 2007 Hoosiers.

2010: Damarlo Belcher, Tandon Doss, Terrance Turner, Duwyce Wilson, Ted Bolser

This group could go down as one of the most deep wide receiving corps to play for Indiana. The group was led by Damarlo Belcher, who is second in Indiana history in both career receptions with 189 and single-season receptions with 78. Belcher also ranks seventh in career receiving yards, although he wasn't a big touchdown producer. Belcher was dismissed from the team in Oct. of 2011 due to a failed drug test, and was three receptions short of passing James Hardy for career receptions in Indiana history.

Tandon Doss was an extremely versatile player, and was second on the 2010 squad with 706 yards and also caught seven touchdowns. The versatility of Doss allowed him to be selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Doss found most of his success as a kick returner, totaling 412 return yards and one touchdown in his four-year career, which included a Super Bowl XLVII win.

Terrance Turner was a reliable option in his four years at Indiana, appearing in 41 games. Alongside Doss, Turner was another productive second option behind Belcher. Turner was second on the team with 67 receptions and became the 17th Hoosier to ever reach 100 career receptions and 1,000 career yards.

Duwyce Wilson didn't have as big of a role as the aforementioned receivers on the 2010 team, but was a true deep-ball threat as a freshman. The Hoosiers went 4-7 season, but did not lack firepower at the receiver and tight end position. Ted Bolser was another productive freshman on this team and went on to have an incredible career at Indiana as a tight end, and was a key player on the 2013 team.

2013: Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes, Ted Bolser

Under the direction of former head coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers had one of the most exciting offenses in program history in 2013. Although Indiana finished with a 5-7 record and allowed 38.8 points per game, its explosive offense averaged 38.4 points a contest.

Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson rotated at quarterback in 2013 and each appeared in every game, but it didn’t matter too much who was throwing the ball to this receiving corps. Latimer led the group with 79 catches, 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns and succeeded in both screens and deep balls.

What made this group so special was how each receiver fit a specific role. Shane Wynn was a speedster in the slot, and was second on the team in touchdowns with 11 behind running back Tevin Coleman who scored 12 times.

Kofi Hughes was tough to bring down after the catch, and was second behind Latimer with 739 yards. Ted Bolser was one of the Big Ten’s best tight ends for four years and set a load of records as a Hoosier.

Bolser leads all Indiana tight ends with 117 receptions, 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a tight end, Bolser’s career is especially impressive, ranking 15th in receptions and 23rd in yards among all Indiana receivers.

2015: Simmie Cobbs Jr., Ricky Jones, Mitchell Paige

One of Indiana’s most talented groups came not too long ago in 2015. Another Kevin Wilson offense, the Hoosiers could really put up points that year, scoring 36.5 points per game.

Simmie Cobbs Jr. led the group with 1,035 yards, which was good for third in the Big Ten that year. Cobbs had tremendous jumping ability, making him a big target at 6-foot-4 for Nate Sudfeld and Zander Diamont.

Ricky Jones was just 94 yards away from the 1,000-yard milestone, which would have been the first time in program history that two receivers finished with 1,000 yards or more. What made his 2015 season even more incredible was how Jones had just four receptions before his breakout junior campaign.

Jones stood at 5-foot-10, but had great speed and a knack for breaking tackles, which helped him total 1,754 yards in his final two seasons as a Hoosier. While Mitchell Paige had over 200 fewer receiving yards than Jones, he actually finished with the most touchdowns among Indiana wide receivers with six.

Paige was only 5-foot-7, but his breakaway speed made him a headache for Big Ten defenses. In 2015, Paige returned two punts for touchdowns and was an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.

How does this season's group stack up?

The 2020 group will likely go down as one of the best receiving corps in Indiana history, even in a shortened eight-game regular season. Fryfogle has already reached 642 yards, which puts him in a position to break into the top-10 for receiving yards in a season. He would need 287 yards the rest of the season to reach this achievement. Fryfogle and Philyor each have a chance to finish in the top-10 in single-season receptions, as well.

The tandem would both need to at least double the amount of receptions they have so far in 2020, so it's not too likely, but there's a chance. It is safe to say in a full season with a bowl game appearance, Fryfogle and Philyor would have had a real chance to etch their names towards the top of the Indiana history books.

No matter where you rank 2020’s receiving corps, this group will be an integral part of Indiana’s success moving forward. And this week against a Maryland team that can rack up points, the trio will be relied upon to keep pace.

“That was always a goal to get to a point like this,” Fryfogle said. “...I feel like I’m playing at the top of my game right now, but I just have to keep going and getting better every day.”

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