Written By Nathan Comp
After a 140-day layoff since the end-of-season defeat at Purdue in 2017, the Hoosier football team will be back in game action—albeit against themselves—noon this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The spring game will be the capstone of the team’s spring practices until they reconvene at the end of the summer. With numerous question marks revolving around the 2018 team, we wanted to highlight five things to watch during this Saturday’s game that could serve as telling signs for the fall.
1. QB Snap Distribution
With the departure of Richard Lagow, all eyes look to who will become the leader on the offensive side of the ball. At the moment, the leader is four-time starter Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey showed promise as a dual-threat QB last year, throwing for 10 touchdowns with a 65% completion rate while also tallying over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.
However, Ramsey will face stiff competition, especially from true freshman QB Mike Penix Jr. Penix has turned heads so far in spring practices with his powerful arm and quick adjustment to a college playbook. His ability to move outside of the pocket makes him an ideal fit for DeBord’s offense.
Both quarterbacks will be trying to make the most of the reps that they get before graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins arrives on campus. Dawkins announced his decision to come to the Hoosiers Tuesday night.
When the final whistle blows on Saturday, it will be interesting not only seeing how these three perform, but also how evenly-distributed the plays behind center are.
2. Field Goal Kicking
Although special teams is often overlooked, I will continue to preach this: it’s one third of the game and it is important. After losing two-time Big Ten Kicker of the Year Griffin Oakes, Indiana must be able to turn to a new leg to rely on when the offense stalls in field goal range. The reliable Oakes allowed for a near-guarantee of at least three points for the Hoosier offense. Logan Justus has shown promise so far this spring but will certainly be one to watch to see continued progression and must prove consistency. And as we can only expect an Indiana spring day to bring all of its elements, the special teams unit should face a difficult test on Saturday.
The heart and soul of an impressive Hoosier defense the past two seasons have been linebackers Tegray Scales and Chris Covington. As they move on to the NFL, Tom Allen must replace the position he describes as the quarterbacks of the defense. After seasons of complete certainty at the position, Allen will now look to less experienced and more unproven players such as Kiante Walton, Reakwon Jones, and Michael McGinnis. These individuals have large shoes to fill as they will be replacing some of the all-time greats to ever wear the IU uniform.
I feel the main area to watch with these players this Saturday is their communication with the rest of the defense. While they have not had to take a leadership role so far in their careers, they will most certainly have to in 2018. Losing vocal leaders both at linebacker and the defensive backfield will place more responsibility on the guys filling their shoes.
4. Getting Back to Takeaways
Tom Allen prides his defense on their ability to force “takeaways,” as he calls them. After forcing 23 takeaways in Allen’s year at defensive coordinator, the Hoosier defense took a step back last season tallying only 13, ranking 111th nationally. With a defense that has built its identity around forcing turnovers, this statistic must improve.
Although it is not always easy to root for turnovers in a spring game, as a turnover forced by the defense is a turnover given away by the offense, seeing an aggressive style of defense that wreaks havoc on the offense is easy to root for. Expect more aggression, while balancing the challenges of a younger defense that is bound to make mistakes.
5. Offensive Line
The offensive line proved to be one of the weakest facets for Indiana last season. IU averaged only 130 rushing yards a game and gave up 29 sacks and 74 tackles for loss; a weak offensive line, coupled with inexperience at the quarterback position, cannot happen in 2018.
Returning linemen Coy Cronk, Hunter Littlejohn, Brandon Knight, Wes Martin, Stephen Stepaniak, and the addition of Miami (FL) graduate transfer Nick Linder should improve upon a glaring weakness last season. This should bring more holes opened up for the running backs, meanwhile opening up the field and providing more time to throw for the quarterbacks. Keep an eye on an improved running game, with the help of the big men up front, along with more time for the quarterbacks to settle in and go through their progressions.
With these five things in mind, enjoy seeing the team back in action this Saturday
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