Indiana football’s receiving corps in 2020 was headlined by the breakout of Ty Fryfogle and the consistency of Whop Philyor.
The Hoosiers were the fifth-best passing/receiving team in the Big Ten last season. With most of that production returning, and now that star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is healthy heading into the season, those numbers look to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Indiana had the third-highest team receiving grade (72.0) in 2020 in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State (81.5) and Penn State (74.4) were higher. In only eight games last season Indiana totaled 2,007 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns, and averaged around 251 yards a game. Not too shabby at all.
Although, one of the biggest questions regarding Indiana’s receivers will be the health of Penix. Coming off an ACL tear, Penix showed the ability to get the ball down field efficiently and accurately. Receivers’ production dropped dramatically after his injury and a lot of that is really ball placement and arm strength. Both of which are areas Penix excels in.
Let’s go through a few receivers and their interesting storylines heading into 2021.
While the Hoosiers lose Philyor in 2021, they bring in D.J. Matthews, a transfer from Florida State. Matthews will fill the Philyor role in the slot in 2021 as well as punt return duties. Out of Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Matthews was the 51st overall recruit in the class of 2017.
With a slight build at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, he’s not a go-up-and-get-it type of receiver but the Hoosiers don’t need him to be. Matthews is quick and a solid route runner, who will fit in nicely with the short pass game.
While production-wise he’s a more proven punt returner, in three seasons at FSU he tallied 84 receptions, 809 yards and five receiving touchdowns.
One thing Penix brings to the table at quarterback is the deep ball and there’s no better deep threat in the Big Ten than Ty Fryfogle.
Statistically Fryfogle is one of the best “jump ball” receivers in the entire country, the senior wideout tallied a 47.8% (11/23) contested catch rate. On balls thrown 15-plus yards in 2020, Fryfogle was responsible for nine contested catches. That’s two more than any other Power Five receiver.
Fryfogle boasts a very physical playstyle and frame standing at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. This is why he succeeds most at the “back shoulder” and “go” routes. While lacking in the separation department, Fryfogle can make up for it with his athleticism, concentration and size.
So what made Fryfogle so special in 2020? Well, Fryfogle holds one of the most ridiculous strings of games in Indiana football history.
Take a look at the numbers:
Absurd. Ty Fryfogle was named Big Ten Receiver of the year in 2020 and only looks to build off of that in 2021, but this go around, he’ll have a target on his back.
Marshall is the biggest target on the depth chart for Michael Penix. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, there won't be many defensive backs with near the size Marshall has. Heading into the 2021 season, most secondaries will be focused on Fryfogle which opens the field for other receivers to make plays. I expect Miles Marshall to be Penix’s second read and target on most plays.
While Fryfogle took the role as a jump ball and “go up and get it” type receiver last season, expect Marshall to fill that role in 2021. The offense is primed to and would be better using Fryfogle’s athleticism on routes over the top of the secondary on post and go routes.
tryna find paradise, ain’t tryna see that light... pic.twitter.com/hRI61ZPj57
— miles marshall (@milesmarshall_) February 22, 2021
The junior had solid numbers in 2020 but as option No. 3 behind Philyor and Fryfogle and really looks to evolve into a new role in this year's offense.
In his career as a Hoosier, Marshall has 35 catches for 486 yards and two touchdowns.
Don’t forget about Camron Buckley, the Texas A&M transfer who will look to integrate himself into the offense. Buckley had good numbers in his career at A&M but missed 2020 due to a torn ACL.
Having joined the team in May, Buckley brings great experience having played in 39 games with the Aggies. In those 39 games, the Texas native totaled 62 receptions, 877 yards and four touchdowns.
My biggest questions with Buckley are: one, how will he return from his injury? And two, how does he fit into the offense? ACL tears are some of the scariest injuries in sports and everyone recovers differently. Only time will tell if he can recover and perform quickly. It’s no question what he can bring to the table, but how does he fit into this group of receivers?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buckley in the slot alongside Matthews. At Texas A&M, Buckley was predominantly on the inside and in the slot position. Buckley was utilized by working the outside of the field and sidelines on out-routes and short crossing routes.
Buckley describes his fit as versatile and that he has the ability to play both inside and outside, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds comfort in the offense playing the same role he did at Texas A&M.
Uno Gone Go Crazy #LLLD pic.twitter.com/MmeopzBBTi
— Camron Buckley ✨ (@CAMDAHOUDINI) August 2, 2021
So who's next?
A good problem that the Indiana offense has this season is that there are a lot of capable guys to throw the ball to. As for who’s up next at wide receiver, sophomore Javon Swinton and junior Jacolby Hewitt stand out to me.
While the numbers aren’t out of this world for either of them, they’ve shown some flashes and in order to have a successful receiving corps you have to have depth and this season Indiana has that.
If you remember, Swinton had a huge catch on the game-tying drive in the thrilling win over Penn State last season.
Talent is NOT an issue for Hoosier receivers. They have it, but can they put it all together? This group has a chance to be one of the best position groups in the Big Ten, but only if they can perform on the field.
I expect Buckley and Marshall to surprise a lot of Hoosiers fans by their production. I also wouldn't be shocked to see a drop in Fryfogle's numbers because defenses will gameplan heavily for him. Expectations are high for Indiana's receiving corps heading into 2021.
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