Before IU played Penn State on Saturday, sophomore Jacolby Hewitt and freshman Javon Swinton never played a down in college.
The Hoosiers’ wide receivers have a motto: Stay ready so they don’t have to get ready. And they were prepared to come into the game when it mattered most.
“He’s like my brother,” Swinton said of Hewitt during a Zoom call Wednesday. “Even though we’re competing, we’re both supporting each other. We know both of us have to step up.”
Hewitt was the first player Swinton met on his official visit to IU, and since then, they’ve been friends battling for playing time at the same position.
The two underclassmen pass catchers were called upon to replace sophomore wide receiver Miles Marshall, who was hit in the head in the fourth quarter Saturday and is now going through concussion protocol.
On the Hoosiers’ final scoring drive of regulation, Swinton and Hewitt combined for three catches for a total of 37 yards. Each reception resulted in a first down.
Hewitt’s only catch of the game was a diving 14-yard reception that put IU inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and converted the ensuing two-point conversion to force overtime.
Hewitt redshirted as a freshman and then missed all of last season due to a torn ACL.
“It was phenomenal, and I’m happy for those kids,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said during a Zoom call Monday. “But now we get to coach them even harder. We get to push them even more because there are still things that they could improve on, just like there are things that we can improve on as a staff.”
Despite the victory, the IU offense was inconsistent and will look to correct its mistakes ahead of a matchup with Rutgers this Saturday.
Penix completed passes to seven different receivers against the Nittany Lions but finished with only 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Penix said he believes all of his receivers can make big plays no matter the situation.
After getting their first game action, Swinton and Hewitt will look to build more chemistry with Penix if Marshall is unable to play this week.
“Those guys work extremely hard in practice,” Penix said. “They proved not only just to me but to the team that they’re worthy enough to go out on the field, and we expect them to make those plays.”
At times against Penn State, it appeared Penix was throwing passes before his wide receivers could anticipate them. The Hoosiers had only 60 passing yards through three quarters.
IU head coach Tom Allen said several variables contributed to the struggles early in the game. The Penn State defense was successful in pressuring Penix, and this was his first game since November 2019.
In practice this week, Swinton said receivers are staying after practice to catch more passes from the quarterbacks.
“The biggest thing about it is chemistry,” he said. “So I feel like just getting our chemistry and timing down so [Penix] knows where we’re going to be, and he knows where he’s going to put the ball every time. It’s only going to get better for us.”
The young receivers will look to improve from their first game experience this Saturday against a Rutgers team that forced seven takeaways in a 38-27 victory over Michigan State, Nov. 24.
“When I got in, I just capitalized on the time that I was in,” Hewitt said. “No matter if it was one or two plays, just go out there and do your all and try your best to do whatever the team needs you to do.”