The game was not pretty, but Indiana used all three dimensions of the game to hold off a pesky Ball State team Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. Most importantly, the Hoosiers got an opportunity to finally show off what they have been working on during the offseason.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the Hoosiers first victory of the season.
Michael Penix Jr. displayed his raw talent and athleticism
In his first start as a collegiate quarterback, Michael Penix Jr. showed what he was capable with the keys to the offense. He moved the ball down the field the entire game with short and deep throws to his offensive weapons completing 60 percent of his passes throwing for 326 yards and a score. The Redshirt Freshman stayed alert in the pocket and used his legs to keep plays alive for the Hoosier offense. With seven carries for 67 yards, Penix totaled 393 yards on the day making him the first Indiana freshman since Antwaan Randle El to throw for over 300 yards in his first start. Penix also is second to Randle El in total and passing yards as Randle El recorded 385 passing and 467 total yards during his debut.
However, there are some areas of improvement for the young quarterback. Penix threw two interceptions in the first half with the first being a completely missed throw. On the second, his receiver fell down on the route and it ended as an interception.
You are going to have some growing pains. He has never been a starter before in college, and they did good job of disguising some stuff.Head Coach Tom Allen
Even though he threw two picks, Penix responded and delivered the rest of the game. There were a number of passes that hit Indiana receiver’s hands but were dropped to the ground. Those could have broke the game wide open for Indiana and Penix may have been able to improve on his numbers if those throws had connected.
Playing in your first college game, there are likely to be some mistakes. However, continuing to move the ball down the field and responding after those miscues gives Penix the chance to be a competent starter for Indiana moving forward.
Hoosiers need to dedicate time to practice tackling fundamentals
On the defensive side of the ball, Indiana showed glimpses of both good and bad. The biggest issue was tackling Ball State’s ball carriers. The Hoosiers had 25 missed tackles during the game leading to 181 extra yards for Ball State. One of those tackles turned a short gain into a 45-yard touchdown reception by Cardinal receiver Walter Fletcher. Most of that touchdown came after contact had been made by an Indiana defender.
Defensively we didn’t tackle very well at all, that’s what really sticks out to me. I think it was terrible. We will get that fixed, that is not who we are.Head Coach Tom Allen
The Hoosiers held Ball State to 100 yards of rushing on 40 carries averaging to 2.5 yards a carry. Stopping the run was no problem for Indiana but Cardinals quarterback Drew Plitt threw for 298 yds and two touchdowns as well. Five of Plitt’s receivers had over 35 receiving yards on the day and many of those came from missed tackles.
I saw a lot of guys just trying to shoulder tackle and that’s got to go.Head Coach Tom Allen
Now, the tackling issue can be fixed for Indiana as their season continues on. Coach Tom Allen’s players were getting to the ball carriers, but not finishing the play all the way through. If the Hoosier defenders stop, breakdown and drive through the runner, then many of those big runs for Ball State turn into only short gains. One thing is for sure with defensive minded Allen, he will make sure his team’s tackling improves before the next matchup against Eastern Illinois.
The investment in special teams is providing returns
No surprise with Fifth-year senior Logan Justus being named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance on Saturday. Justus went four-for-four on field goals during the day with his new career long being a 50-yard success with 2:15 to go in the game. Additionally, Justus hit attempts from 30, 48 and 49 as well.
I don’t feel any pressure, the team trusts me and I trust them. They were confident in me and I was confident in them.Kicker Logan Justus
Indiana needed Justus to come through and he did, as many of his kicks kept Indiana in the lead after the offense would stall on the plus side of the field.
I knew the offense would get the ball down there and we would all do our own job.Kicker Logan Justus
Punting was another success for the Hoosiers against Ball State. Senior Haydon Whitehead punted three times for Indiana for a total of 155 yards with the longest being a 63 yarder to put the Cardinals deep in their own territory. Those punts averaged to 51 yards a punt and that is key for Whitehead to continue because it gives Indiana an edge in the field position game.
To round out special teams, Indiana’s receiving team tallied 125 yards on five returns averaging to 25 yards per return. Playing as a true freshman, David Ellis returned 4 kicks for 104 yards with his longest being a 33 yard return.
If the Hoosiers want to stay in games during the intense Big Ten schedule, they will have to receive this output from their special teams on a regular basis.
Featured Image: IndianaHQ