Come for the Ramsey/Penix comparison. Stay for the Reese/Whop love.
As a reminder, the little number next to each player’s name is the total number of possessions in which that player participated. Playing one play in a given series counts.
A few notes:
- At wide receiver, don’t focus on the specific position of each player. Timian will often line up out wide. Hale will rotate in for Westbrook and Fryfogle. When IU goes 4 wide, Timian and Whop will be in the slot. The general takeaway is some combination of three or four of those five guys (Westbrook, Hale, Timian, Philyor and Fryfogle) will play almost all the time. Reese Taylor will occasionally line up in the slot as well, as he did last Saturday.
- Speaking of Reese, he defies my effort to tie him to a specific position in this chart. I listed him as a running back this time around because that is where he lined up some of the time, and he saw more carries than targets in the passing game. Going forward, I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t take a few direct snaps.
- As expected, there is no clear separation between the three tight ends. It seems like the coaching staff may prefer Hendershot in the red zone, but Bjorson seemed like a capable receiver as well. Through one game, I’m feeling much better about this group than I anticipated, especially without Ryan Watercutter.
- The offensive line rotation was interesting. With the exception of Coy Cronk, every other position had more than one guy see action. There was rotation along the line last year, but most of it was injury-related, which I don’t believe was the case against FIU. I suspect this was more about Coach Hiller and the offensive staff not seeing much separation between their top 8 linemen (especially on the right side of the line), having a few guys with the flexibility to play multiple positions, and simply wanting to see how the different groups meshed in live action. Over the next few weeks, I expect this rotation to narrow a bit.
- Oh the running back situation…one game in and IU’s clear top two returning backs are gone. A position with depth issues now has a clear depth problem. On the bright side, Stevie Scott was as promised: a big, strong back who will be, at minimum, serviceable between the tackles as a true freshman, which is no small feat. Please Jeebus make him durable. Beyond that, Mike Majette will need to shoulder more of a load than he has before, and it would really help if some combination of Ronnie Walker and Craig Nelson would emerge as a viable option. The smart money is on Walker. And don’t you dare forget about Ol’ Reliable, Ricky Brookins. While he may not possess the physical gifts of the other backs, he runs hard, catches the ball, pass blocks, and breaks off 80-yard runs against Purdue.
- Was there a quarterback rotation? Weird. Must have missed that.
Let me get this out there right now to start the season: I’m not a quarterback monogamist. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with how the coaching staff rotated the quarterbacks against FIU, and if the in-game performance of Penix and Ramsey remains close, I don’t have any problem with some form of rotation continuing. And I’m not at all concerned with protecting Penix’s redshirt. Let’s not wring our hands over something that may become an issue four years from now. That said, if one or the other distances himself and the rotation stops, I’m fine with that too. Although as a former Cincinnati resident I’ll admit to some bias in favor of Elder High’s own Peyton Ramsey, I really don’t have a dog in this fight.
With that in mind, the inevitable comparisons made here are not really about pitting Ramsey vs. Penix in my mind. It’s more about analyzing how the position of IU quarterback is faring and identifying each QB’s individual strengths and weaknesses. Bring on the charts…
The first one is for both QB’s combined:
With all necessary “small sample size” caveats, these charts confirm what you already know: both QBs played well. As expected, Ramsey was extremely accurate on short throws. Somewhat surprisingly, he was 3 for 3 on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield, including a TD pass to Donovan Hale that was better than anything we saw from him last season. Perhaps even more surprising was Ramsey’s interception on IU’s first drive. Ramsey threw 1 INT on 77 “short” attempts in 2017, and it took him all of 2 short attempts to throw one in 2018. Later, he forced a pass to Bjorson in the end zone that, while almost a TD, was also into heavy traffic. While these throws may be nothing, they could flag a potential issue for Ramsey. Avoiding those sorts of mistakes, and his decision-making in general, is probably Ramsey’s primary value-add at QB. He must resist the urge to compromise on that strength in order to prove that he can make every throw, which is obviously easier said than done when you have a more naturally gifted passer breathing down your neck. He’ll have plenty of opportunities (I think) to show off his improved arm strength. There is no need to force the issue.
Speaking of that naturally gifted passer, Penix actually exceeded my expectations with his accuracy on short passes, hitting all 7 within 10 yards. With the exception of overshooting an open Luke Timian on a deep pass, there’s very little to quibble with here. Let’s see how he does against better competition.
For me, the main takeaway here is the importance of Reese Taylor and Whop Philyor to IU’s outside running game. IU really did not have an outside running threat as a component on its offense in 2017. Just like a downfield passing threat stretches the defense vertically to open up the run, successful outside running can stretch the defense horizontally in a way that can assist the inside run game. Jet-sweeps and reverses to Taylor and Philyor will be incredibly valuable going forward. For this offense to maximize its potential, I think those two need to combine for at least 15 touches (rush attempts and receptions) per game. Anything less is leaving playmaking ability on the table. They combined for 9 touches against FIU, which is a fine start.
If you need more evidence of the potential of Philyor and Taylor, take a look at the broken tackles chart. In those 9 touches, they combined to break 4 tackles. For context, as a team IU averaged just over 5 broken tackles a game in 2017. Stevie Scott and his bruising style also demonstrated some prowess in this area. Again, let’s see if IU can keep this pace up – or something close to it – against stronger competition.
Real job obligations will prevent me from getting the defensive charts out this week, so look for a combined set next week after the UVA game. Admit it, you didn’t want to dig too deeply into that performance anyway.