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10/06/2022
Indiana receivers Cam Camper and Javon Swinton run alongside each other during Indiana's overtime win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 17. (HN photo/Max Wood)
Indiana receivers Cam Camper and Javon Swinton run alongside each other during Indiana's overtime win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 17. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Indiana's playmakers will be the story of Saturday’s Michigan game, whether or not they play

The absence of the team's top two receivers was evident last week

Indiana football quarterback Connor Bazelak was missing his top two receivers last week against Nebraska. When he needed a play, he turned to the team’s remaining receivers. 

On the ground, the Hoosiers only averaged 1.5 yards per rush, excluding one long run late in the first half.

The offense has struggled this season — it ranks 10th in total offense in the Big Ten and 13th in rushing offense — largely due to an absence of consistent playmakers.

Indiana welcomes No. 4 Michigan for its homecoming on Saturday, and if it wants any chance to stay competitive, it needs the playmakers to show up.

Cam Camper and D.J. Matthews

While Emery Simmons caught six passes for 57 yards Andison Coby caught five for 54 yards, the absence of Cam Camper and D.J. Matthews Jr. left the offense clearly desperate for options.

Camper missed the game with a non-COVID illness, while a lingering hamstring issue Matthews sustained at Cincinnati kept him out. Both are questionable to return against Michigan.

“It's always difficult when you lose two guys that have been your most productive playmakers, but at the same time other guys have to step up,” head coach Tom Allen said in Monday’s press conference. “I think we had five drops, which is something we can't have. We needed those catches in those situations and challenge those guys to step up in that. And that's part of the execution piece to help a quarterback out and help our whole offense out.”

Camper has been Indiana’s best receiver by far this season, leading the team in every category but touchdowns. He’s caught 33 passes for 418 yards, roughly double Matthews’ second-place production.

His connection with Bazelak have allowed the two to continually bail out Indiana’s offense. On average this season he’s been targeted 11.1 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and he’s caught 33% of contested passes.

Matthews, meanwhile, has seen decreased production since a 109-yard performance against Illinois. Against Western Kentucky, his last full game, Matthews had just five catches for 41 yards, but his counterbalance alongside Camper has helped Indiana.

Whether the two leading receivers play or not, offensive coordinator Walt Bell wants to make sure Bazelak gets comfortable with the rhythm of the offense.

“There’s no substitute for easy completions,” Bell said. “We’ve gotta continue to do that, continue to manufacture easy throws.”

Jaylin Lucas

Indiana’s biggest play Saturday came on a run by freshman running back Jaylin Lucas. 

Lucas received praise from the coaching staff in the preseason, and despite being a freshman, was noted as a player who could become significant in Indiana’s scheme this year.

Since then, Lucas has gotten seven rushes for 55 yards. On one of those rushes, Lucas bounced around his offensive line and made two would-be Nebraska tacklers miss on the way to a 34-yard run. The Hoosiers would score later on that drive.

“What we see in practice, especially through fall camp and spring football, even when he first got here, we witnessed what he did on Saturday,” Bell said. “He's hard to get on the ground, a great space touch player.”

Lucas’s dynamic rushing ability was on full display, but he’s still struggling to get touches on the up-tempo offense.

“He's obviously a running back, and pass protection is a big deal,” Allen said. “It's part of that. We don't sub guys a lot. You've got to be able to stay with the personnel grouping that you have in those situations.”

Lucas, who’s 170 pounds, is largely outmatched by anyone he’d be required to block. He’s also just a freshman, meaning he has to grow and expand his knowledge, Allen said. 

Bazelak said Lucas has advanced knowledge about the playbook already, on top of his talent and speed.

“In the summer or spring, we were joking around because I couldn’t believe he was born in 2004,” Bazelak said. “He knows the playbook a lot better than you would think for a freshman, someone as young as he is.”

But Allen knows he needs to get more involved, and said Lucas will be receiving kickoffs from now on.

Lucas entered the season behind more experienced tailbacks Shaun Shivers and Josh Henderson, and older playmakers such as Camper and Matthews. As a freshman, it meant Lucas would be the odd man out despite his talent. But that could change.

“We’re all very aware that Jaylin’s a really good player,” Bell said. “Earlier in this year, when you kinda have a full boat, there’s a little bit of a growth curve there from a pass protection standpoint. But as he continues to grow and develop, he’s definitely going to become a larger piece of what we do.”


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