Thanks to a dominant performance from the defense and another strong showing from Stevie Scott and the IU rushing attack, the Hoosiers closed their nonconference slate with a 38-10 victory over the Ball State Cardinals on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
As IU’s focus turns to Big Ten Conference play, here are three key takeaways from today’s win that could help the Hoosiers against conference opponents.
1. For a second straight week, IU’s ground game was dominant.
While freshman Stevie Scott didn’t match his monstrous performance from a week ago, the true freshman running back still totaled 18 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This marks the second consecutive week Scott has averaged more than six yards per carry, and that consistency will need to continue as IU faces tougher opponents in conference play.
Scott, who now has 390 yards and three touchdowns for the season, was quick to credit IU’s offensive line for his performance.
“The O-line did another great job blocking this weekend,” Scott said. “They created a lot of holes for me to gain my yardage.”
Scott wasn’t the only IU running back with a big day.
Freshman Ronnie Walker Jr. saw his first action of the season and took full advantage. Walker’s first college carry was an 18-yard touchdown run, and the former four-star recruit from Virginia finished his college debut with nine carries for 41 yards to go along with the score.
IU Coach Tom Allen said Walker would continue to contribute to the Hoosier offense, and with Cole Gest out for the season and Morgan Ellison’s status still unknown after his suspension three weeks ago, it could be up to Walker to ensure Scott doesn’t handle too much of the workload.
“We have to have everybody,” Allen said. “That’s why I was so encouraged with what Ronnie did. We’re just trying to continue to get guys involved because we’re going to need everybody.”
2. J-Shun Harris is still a valuable weapon on special teams.
The highlight of Saturday’s game was redshirt senior J-Shun Harris’ 86-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter.
Harris, who returned for a fifth season after tearing his ACL for the third time, made two defenders miss shortly after catching the punt, then followed a convoy of blockers down the sideline to the end zone.
“It felt awesome seeing all those guys at the end,” Harris said. “It was almost like a wall of them guiding me to the end zone. Once I finally got to the end zone, it was a party.”
Harris showed his ability as a punt returner last season, as he returned two punts for touchdowns before tearing his ACL against Maryland. After that third knee injury, Allen said he wasn’t sure if Harris was going to come back for his fifth year.
But Harris did come back, and now he looks like one of IU’s most explosive players.
“Overcoming three ACL tears is unreal,” Allen said. “I just couldn’t be happier for a finer young man, both as a player and as a person."
3. IU’s defense is as dominant as ever.
For the second straight week, the IU defense struggled on the opening drive of the game. For the second straight week, the Hoosiers dominated the remainder of the contest, sacking junior quarterback Riley Neal three times and holding Ball State to just 143 passing yards.
The Cardinals were only able to convert four of 14 third-down plays, and IU’s ability to get off the field on third down with consistency will need to carry over to Big Ten play if the Hoosiers want to continue their hot start.
Allen said the key for the IU defense was forcing Ball State into third-and-long situations, and once the Hoosiers were able to do that, the Cardinals really struggled to get anything going offensively.
“Once we started getting them in third down and long, we were able to pin our ears back and get after it,” Allen said. “I was really encouraged by the way our guys just stayed with it, made some adjustments, and went after them.”
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