Indiana Hoosiers: 4 things we know, 4 things we don't
Through the first 2 games of the season for the Indiana Hoosiers, a few things have come into focus.
Indiana knows how to win, showing so with an overtime victory vs. Penn State in the opener, then pulling away from Rutgers on Saturday.
But the Hoosiers still have some unknown aspects, as well.
Let’s take a look at both.
4 things we know
1. Indiana’s secondary is outstanding
Through the first 2 games of the season, there might be few — if any — secondaries in the Big Ten having as big an impact as the Hoosiers’. These guys were all over the place against Rutgers, combining for 6 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks from cornerback Tiawan Mullen. And Jaylin Williams picked off a pass, already the 5th interception of the season for Indiana’s pass defense.
The Hoosiers have allowed only 181.5 passing yards per game — third in the B1G behind Wisconsin (87.0), which has played only 1 game, and Northwestern (179.5).
The 5 INTs rank 2nd in the league behind Northwestern’s 6. Williams has a couple of the picks; Mullen has another. Those two give the Hoosiers a couple of shutdown corners.
Now, they might face a slightly different challenge Saturday vs. Michigan, as the Hoosiers might not be able to maul Wolverines QB Joe Milton quite the same way they did Rutgers’ Noah Vedral.
2. Michael Penix Jr. can be very good
The sophomore quarterback — finally — was unleashed in the second half against Rutgers, finishing by completing his last 7 passes.
He was throwing darts. It was reminiscent of his start last season, before injuries took him off the field, when he was playing loose and zinging the ball all over the field.
Why the slow start this year? Maybe rust. Maybe a new coordinator. Maybe Penn State’s defense. Who knows, but IU can hope it’s in the past.
3. Indiana has everyone’s attention
The Hoosiers can’t claim they’re being overlooked or disrespected.
IU moved up to No. 13 in the latest AP and coaches polls released on Sunday afternoon, up 4 spots in the AP and 6 in the coaches, the highest the Hoosiers have been since the 1967 season.
4. Indiana is great in the second quarter
Perhaps it’s a statistical anomaly this early in the season, but the Hoosiers are smoking opponents in the second quarter.
IU has outscored Penn State and Rutgers by a combined 34-0 in those 15-minute segments. Against the Nittany Lions, that meant erasing a 7-0 deficit with 17 second-quarter points. It was similar at Rutgers, turning a 7-3 deficit into a 20-7 halftime lead.
Having that kind of momentum heading into the locker room cannot be a bad thing.
Four things we don’t know
1. If IU can get a pass rush from the front four
Indiana has 5 sacks, which ranks in the middle of the Big Ten through the first couple weeks.
So that’s OK.
But it’s not OK that very little of that pressure has come from the front four, only half a sack from James Head Jr. and some other pressures. The other 4.5 sacks are from Mullen and a couple linebackers.
IU had hoped that Stanford grad transfer Jovan Swann would be making a bigger impact — and perhaps he will — but he’s not been active as a pass-rusher, although he did get after Vedral on Saturday only to pick up a personal foul.
2. If Michael Penix Jr. can gain some consistency
Penix was scatter shooting in the first game-and-a-half, seeming particularly erratic on throws of more than 20 yards. His 58.1 completion percentage is below average; it’d be a vast improvement if Penix could tick that up into the mid-60s.
Do that, and IU’s offense might start to match its defense in terms of impact.
3. Whether Penix has the ability to stay healthy
Penix ended the Rutgers’ game a little nicked up, although nothing significant enough to even warrant much postgame mention. But it is something to watch.
Penix hasn’t stayed healthy for a season, dropping out his true freshman and redshirt freshman years. Heck, he’s never been able to start more than a handful of games in a row.
Without much of a proven backup, the Hoosiers have to keep Penix upright. Much of that is on his teammates — Penix has been sacked 4 times — but it’s on him too, as he tries to keep himself out of harm’s way.
4. Whether the Hoosiers will beat another big gun
Indiana already has a victory against a Top 25 opponent, having knocked off then-No. 8 Penn State in the opener. The question now is whether it can get another.
No. 23 Michigan, which IU has not beaten since 1988, comes to Bloomington on Saturday, perhaps ripe to be beaten for the second consecutive week. The Hoosiers travel to current No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 21 — could Big Ten East supremacy be on the line? Crazy to even consider. And they have a date at No. 10 Wisconsin on Dec. 5. Perhaps even the Dec. 12 Bucket game vs. Purdue could be a matchup between ranked teams.