This week, we’ll dig into a struggling running game (with a bright spot) and a surprisingly productive aspect of Peyton Ramsey’s passing repertoire.
- With Luke Timian and Whop Philyor out, the wide receiving corps looked a little different. J’Shun Harris was the primary slot receiver. It’s not shown in the chart, but Ty Fryfogle manned the slot on the few occasions when Harris was out. Reese Taylor also regularly lined up in the slot. On the outside, walk-on Chris Gajcak made his first appearance of the season, and true freshman Miles Marshall made his IU debut.[ref] One or both of those guys may have appeared in garbage time against Ball State or on special teams, but we’re talking non-garbage time offensive participation here.[/ref]
- Along the offensive line, it was mostly business at usual with a few small changes. At center, Hunter Littlejohn had started the first four games of the season and generally played the 1st and 3rd quarters, while Nick Linder played the 2nd and 4th. Against Rutgers, Linder and Littlejohn swapped the rotation, with Linder starting and playing the odd quarters. At RT, Brandon Knight suffered a minor injury during the first half and ended up missing parts of three series. Veteran reserve Delroy Baker filled in.
- The running back rotation is starting to become predictable, but the big change this week was true freshman Ronnie Walker seeing the most extended action of his career – partially due to fellow true frosh Stevie Scott’s fumble.
Rushing Offense and Broken Tackles
This was not a particularly impressive performance against a defense that had really struggled defending the run. Cut out two QB draws by Peyton Ramsey on obvious passing downs – for a total of 41 yards – and IU’s production between the tackles was a paltry 36 yards on 19 carries (1.9 YPC). That, um, won’t get it done. The picture is somewhat brighter on the outside, where IU averaged 4.3 YPC, which is on the low end of acceptable. But again, cut out a 19 yard run by Ronnie Walker, and IU backs averaged just 3.0 YPC on their other 11 outside rushes.
One factor in all of this was a Rutgers defense that seemed to be committed to stopping the run, to the point where IU regularly had open receivers on the edges and downfield. So fine, take what the defense gives you. But it wasn’t all that. There were also missed blocks and backs missing open creases. Moreover, DeBord & Co. only used one gap scheme in this game and that came on a speed option on IU’s first drive. Counters and inverted veers were quite effective against Ball State, but for whatever reason, the coaching staff has generally not felt comfortable using them this season.
One bright spot was Ronnie Walker. He had two nice outside zone runs where he made a quick, decisive cut and exploded up field. While Stevie Scott has been incredible and has rightfully picked up all the recognition, I still think Ronnie Walker has the higher ceiling. If Stevie Scott is a poor man’s Jordan Howard, Ronnie Walker just might be a poor man’s Tevin Coleman, in that he has good cutting ability and vision on outside runs. And with appearances in three games, it seems highly likely that Walker will not be redshirting.[ref] The only caveat I would put on that is the possible return of Morgan Ellison. If Ellison comes back this week or next and everyone else remains healthy, I could see a scenario where they shut Walker down after his 4th game. But that all seems fairly unlikely.[/ref]
On the broken tackle front, Stevie Scott’s 13 broken tackles through 5 games has already blown away Ellison and Cole Gest’s season total of 11 each in 2017. Now if we can get him back to that ball security he displayed against UVA…
Whoa, look at that intermediate performance. If you’ve followed Ramsey’s passing charts, you know intermediate throws[ref] Defined as throws traveling 11-20 yards downfield.[/ref] were a weak spot last season and therefore a concern heading into 2018. Well, at least against Rutgers, Ramsey put that concern to bed. Ramsey consistently located the open man and generally made throws that allowed the receiver to run after the catch. The interception was a questionable decision – the out-and-up to Harris was well-covered – but it was also 4th down and the INT touchback didn’t hurt from a field position standpoint. While we can’t expect Ramsey to perform that well on intermediate throws against better competition, at the very least this game should help build his confidence. By the way, the fact that Ramsey put that intermediate performance together without the benefit of Whop Philyor or Luke Timian makes it all the more impressive.
On the other hand, Ramsey’s deep passes left something to be desired. His only deep completion came on a backyard go-long play to Peyton Hendershot after Rutgers jumped offsides on 4th and 1. Again, this may have been somewhat a product of Rutgers coverage, which was fairly soft on the back end for most of the game. Still, we should expect Ramsey to complete at least one long pass play that was actually a called play per game.
Against IU’s next opponent, Ramsey will probably need to do more than that on deep balls, as well as keep his new-found intermediate game cooking, if the Hoosiers are going to have any shot to keep up. I think it’s safe to assume that IU’s running game will struggle against a front seven chock-full of NFL talent, even without Nick Bosa. That leaves Ramsey and the passing game matching up against a defense that has allowed more than its fair share of explosive plays. While Luke Timian’s health is important, Whop Philyor’s availability may be even more crucial, as he is the one Hoosier who can take a short or intermediate throw and take it to the house.[ref] Reese Taylor probably has this ability too, but we haven’t seen it yet.[/ref] That said, given IU’s long odds against the Buckeyes, I completely understand if the coaching staff opts to hold Timian and Philyor out, in the hopes that they’ll be ready for a more winnable game at home against Iowa the following week.