Indiana football: Projecting the 2021 lineup
Indiana has plenty of motivation as it heads into the 2021 season.
Sure, IU won six of its seven Big Ten games, giving it a taste of conference success. But it also was soundly beaten in the Outback Bowl by Ole Miss, leaving a lingering bad taste after its last game of the season.
It could push the Hoosiers as they head to the offseason. Following, we take a look at IU’s 2021 lineup.
The Hoosiers’ offense was one of the most opportunistic in the Big Ten last season, turning turnovers into points so frequently that it helped to mask other issues.
Yes, Indiana scored 28.9 points per game, the fourth-best average in the league, but that was buoyed by the 65 points off 20 turnovers. A deeper look into IU’s yardage numbers shows a team that had inconsistencies, particularly in the rushing game. The Hoosiers averaged only 359.5 yards per game, 10th in the Big Ten, including 108.6 rushing yards, 12th in the league.
But as we look ahead to next fall, there’s reason to think the Hoosiers could take a step forward offensively, considering they return eight starters. Here’s a projection of IU’s 2021 offensive starters:
QB: Michael Penix Jr.
RB: Tim Baldwin Jr.
WR: Ty Fryfogle
WR: D.J. Matthews
WR: Miles Marshall
LT: Caleb Jones
LG: Mike Katic
C: Dylan Powell
RG: Mackenzie Nworah
RT: Matthew Bedford
TE: Peyton Hendershot
The Skinny: The Hoosiers’ ceiling depends on the knee of Michael Penix Jr., who is the catalyst that makes the offense work. With him — he tore his ACL for the second time in late November, sidelining him for a third straight season — Indiana can be a dynamic high-scoring outfit. That’s particularly true now that Big Ten Receiver of the Year Ty Fryfogle has decided to return for his extra pandemic year. A receiving corps with him, Miles Marshall and transfer D.J. Matthews could be one of the better groups in the Big Ten.
Stevie Scott III decided to leave school a year early to try his hand at the NFL, and his leadership, physicality and experience will be missed. But IU needs an upgrade in its running game, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten last season. Perhaps underclassmen Tim Baldwin Jr. gives the Hoosiers a little more speed in the backfield and the offensive line, which returns four starters, takes a step forward in its run blocking.
In 2020, Indiana’s defense had very few areas that opponents could exploit.
The Hoosiers allowed only 20.3 points and 378.1 yards per game, the fourth-best and fifth-best marks, respectively, in the conference. But where it made the biggest impact was in turnovers, with the Hoosiers collecting 20, including a Big Ten-best (and nearly NCAA-best) 17 interceptions. Many of those were caused by Indiana’s ability to get after the quarterback; IU had a Big Ten-best 25 sacks last season.
The Hoosiers had solid players — seven were honored by the Big Ten and two were All-Americans — and depth as well, with the ability to go at least eight deep along the defensive line, four at linebacker and a half dozen in the secondary. That might be tested next season, but the Hoosiers still have plenty of talent remaining. Let’s take a look at the projected starters in 2021:
DE: Alfred Bryant
DT: DeMarcus Elliott
DT: Sio Nofoagatoto’a
DE: James Head Jr.
LB: Micah McFadden
LB: Cam Jones
Husky: Marcelino McCrary-Ball
S: Devon Matthews
S: Bryant Fitzgerald
CB: Tiawan Mullen
CB: Jaylin Williams
The Skinny: The Hoosiers will be good defensively again, particularly because of the talent and experience at linebacker and in the secondary.
The expected return of Marcelino McCrary-Ball, who missed the season after suffering a knee injury during camp, should help Indiana make up for the loss of Jamar Johnson, the ball-hawking safety who is off to the NFL. And any secondary with Tiawan Mullen, one of the best cornerbacks in the country, is going to be solid.
Defensive tackle Jerome Johnson is also departed, leaving to give himself a shot in the NFL Draft. But the Hoosiers had depth in their front four in 2020 and could again next season, particularly if the interior players have positive offseasons. Which of those on the defensive line — and throw Ole Miss transfer Ryder Anderson into the mix as well — win the starting jobs likely won’t be decided until the fall.
The Hoosiers lose talent from their 6-2 bowl team, but not so much that they can’t find others to step in for the 2021 season. Especially on the defensive side, Indiana looks like it could replicate its successes.
The questions might come on offense: Does Penix get healthy and stay healthy? It’ll be the No. 1 factor in Indiana’s success next season.