Coming into the season, the IU receivers were one of the most hyped positions on the squad. Senior Nick Westbrook had close to 1,000 receiving yards in 2016 and was looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 campaign.
Juniors Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle were poised for breakout seasons. Senior Donavon Hale entered his final college season as a legitimate deep ball and redzone threat. Freshmen Miles Marshall and David Ellis figured to make a strong influence as well.
While a lot of those preseason assumptions have been true through four games, a relatively unknown player has been IU’s best pass catcher this season.
After having just 15 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, redshirt sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot — yes, Peyton Hendershot — leads IU in receptions (18), receiving yards (238) and touchdowns (three) in 2019. More scores than the redzone threat Hale. More yards than the deep ball threat Westbrook. More catches than the speedy possession receiver Philyor.
“He’s a matchup nightmare for inside linebackers and safeties,” junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “He’s been extremely reliable.”
At six foot four and 255 pounds, Hendershot has been able to rack up catches and yards in a variety of ways and showcased this ability against UConn. Hendershot is an unconventional weapon in the screen game and displayed athleticism while catching a bubble screen in the second quarter. After catching the ball, the North Salem native cut up field and hurdled a defender to pick up a first down.
But Hendershot is at his best in the middle of the field, whether it be in the intermediate or deep passing game. Back in IU’s season opener against Ball State University, Hendershot ran a seam route in the middle of the field and caught a laser from redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Hendershot then was able to hold onto the ball while being crunched by a Ball State safety and linebacker, picking up 19 yards on the play.
Hendershot has also turned into a reliable redzone threat. Hendershot has scored a touchdown in three straight games, and in the only contest he failed to score a touchdown, he still managed to find the endzone via a two point conversion on a trick play against the Cardinals. Hendershot’s touchdown against the Huskies also came in the red zone.
On third and goal from the four late in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer was able to distract the UConn defense with a bunch set to the left of Ramsey, with Hendershot hiding on the line of scrimmage.
After the snap, Hendershot delayed his release, making it look like he was going to block. Instead, after a second or two, he released and ran a simple slant route, but because of the delay, there wasn’t a Husky defender within five yards of him, allowing the junior to easily catch the ball in the end zone.
While Hendershot has improved a great deal, DeBoer’s tight end friendly offense has helped as well.
“Kalen loves using those tight ends,” IU head coach Tom Allen said.
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