Heading into the Spring Game, All Eyes Will Be on the Hoosier Offensive Backfield

  Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Written By Alex Compton (@alexncompton)

After months of anticipation spent waiting for spring camp, it has already come and gone. The annual Cream and Crimson Spring Game is this Saturday at noon in Memorial Stadium (weather permitting), and is free to all fans. While the game is an exciting event for players and fans alike, it unfortunately means there won’t be any more football until the incoming freshmen arrive on campus this summer. My advice would be to make it out to the field this Saturday to take in some great football and watch for some of the things on offense that I’ll be looking for on Saturday as well.

Since Tom Allen has arrived at IU, much of the attention surrounding the team has been shifted towards the defense, and rightfully so. The unit has had a remarkable turnaround from years past under his tenure, and is a big reason why the Hoosiers have been so close to knocking off some of the league’s perennial contenders. There has been tremendous growth on that side of the ball so far this spring with lots of new contributors, and those close to the program are confident that their success will continue this season as well. This year’s team is very talented overall, but the bottom line is that a bowl game will be tough to get to without an improvement on offense. With that in mind, I’ll focus my attention on the offense instead of the defense and watch for a few things.

Quarterbacks

We’ve covered it as much as anyone, but Indiana has another quarterback competition this year. After watching NFL-hopeful Richard Lagow and Peyton Ramsey essentially split snaps last year, the Hoosiers were hoping that a clear-cut starter would emerge in camp and start preparing to be the full-time starter. That plan looked like it would be right on track until signing day, when a certain high school senior complicated that. Mike Penix Jr. spurned his home state Seminoles for the Hoosiers, and immediately threw his name right near the top of the depth chart. He has impressed just about everyone this spring, and is looking to cap a very strong spring with a nice performance in the spring game. Brandon Dawkins is obviously in the mix now as well, but will not dress for the game on Saturday. It really is a moot point however, as evaluating two young quarterbacks in game situations is invaluable for development purposes. So don’t worry about Dawkins on Saturday, and watch Ramsey and Penix Jr. go at it instead.

Penix will be the scheduled starter for the “Cream Team”, and will have a nice mix of targets to throw to. Ryan Watercutter and Austin Dorris will both be donning the cream jerseys as well, and that gives him a nice set of targets over the middle at tight end. On the outside, Penix will have an interesting set of guys to hit  including true sophomore Whop Philyor, and a pair of freshmen in Jacolby Hewitt and Ty Fryfogle while worrying about an overall solid secondary. Three of IU’s best pass defenders (A’Shon Riggins, Marcelino Ball, Jonathan Crawford) will line up opposite of him, and it will be interesting to see how he and those young receivers handle some of the B1G’s better players in the secondary.

Peyton Ramsey will quarterback the “Crimson Team”, and will have his favorite target to throw to in Luke Timian to go along with Donovan Hale and Nick Westbrook, although it's likely neither will play. That leaves the door open for a bunch of guys to make a mark, including walk-ons David Felton and Chris Gajcak. His tight ends are Peyton Hendershot and Shaun Bonner, and a couple nice plays from those guys will really calm any concerns about depth at tight end behind Dorris and Watercutter. Ramsey is probably still the starting quarterback in week one if the season started tomorrow, but a strong performance in the Spring Game will help him keep Penix Jr. at bay (for now). 

Running Game

Indiana’s rushing attack has been a staple of the Big Ten since Stephen Houston was running wild on defenses, but really took a step back last year. There are two main reasons why the running game took a step back in my opinion, and the offense does seem better equipped to address them this year. First off, the offensive line was extremely young and inexperienced last year. Coy Cronk and Wes Martin were experienced anchors on the left side, but lots of rotation happened among the other three spots which prevented the unit from getting a rhythm in the running game. This year, the offensive line returns every player from last year. Not just the starters, not just the guys that played, everyone. Add in graduate transfer Nick Linder, and the Hoosiers suddenly have one of the deepest and most experienced units in the Big Ten. The other issue was the inability to consistently move the ball down the field in the passing game. IU's revamped QB room looks more equipped to do just that, and that should help out greatly. 

A week ago, Morgan Ellison went down with what looked like a major leg injury that caused him to miss the rest of practice. He will be out for the rest of spring ball but be ready for the summer according to Coach Allen, which is huge. Morgan now gets to heal up and let some otehr backs get experience, which could be a win-win for both. The Crimson Team has the stronger of the two groups of backs, led by Cole Gest and early enrollee Ronnie Walker. Redshirt freshman Craig Nelson is on the roster as well, and it will be interesting to see how he is utilized after a very good spring. The Cream Team is led by Mike Majette and Ricky Brookins, who are both valuable assets in the passing game, so getting some more touches through that avenue seems likely on Saturday as well. One guy to watch for the Cream Team is Ahrod Lloyd, a walk-on from Park Tudor who we listed as one of our impact walk-ons to watch this year. 

Other Notes

Last year's game was very competitive, and I expect this edition of the contest to be the same way. The losing team has to serve up a steak dinner to the winners in the Henke Hall, and that's something that both sides are trying to avoid. Tom Allen will also speak following the game to the fans as well as to his players, which is when he will hand out spring awards. Be sure to check back on the site following the game for all of your coverage needs. 

Finally, remember that the goal of a Spring Game is to get guys game reps while making sure everyone stays healthy. There will be big hits and great plays, but the team is still very young and making steady progress towards where they'll need to be for the start of the year. So when there's a bad throw or a missed block, try and focus on the guy that made a good play and let the guys learn from their mistakes instead of declaring this season over already. Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@Hoosier_Huddle) for updates during the game, and stop by and say hi if you come out to the game!