Following a 38-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday, IU head coach Tom Allen announced during a Monday Zoom call five individuals were named the team’s Offensive Player of the Week.
The entire starting offensive line, which did not give up a sack Saturday against the Wolverines, anchored the Hoosiers en route to a season-high 460 yards of total offense.
“After going back and watching the film, the job that they did was really critical to our success,” Allen said.
After allowing three sacks against Penn State in the opening game of the season, IU’s offensive line hasn’t allowed sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to be tackled for a loss since.
Allen said he challenged the group to play at a higher level, and the practices leading up to Week 3 were difficult. They paid off when Penix threw for a career-best 342 yards.
After the win, Allen awarded Penix the game ball, but he promptly handed it over to the men who protected him.
“We just pushed them and made it a big emphasis for them to be physical,” Penix said. “That’s what they showed when game time came up. They played their tails off, they had a great game and I felt like it was necessary because I couldn't do it without them.”
IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said their development took time.
In the summer, while the team followed guidelines as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, he taught run-blocking schemes while guards and tackles stood six feet apart from each other.
On Saturday, the Hoosiers posted their highest rushing total of the season behind 97 yards and two touchdowns from junior running back Stevie Scott III. Sophomore running back Sampson James also contributed 25 yards on the ground.
While the team wasn’t generating explosive plays running the ball, it was gaining enough yards to consistently pick up first downs.
Before playing Michigan, IU converted just six of its 23 third-down attempts on the year. Against the Wolverines, the Hoosiers converted nine of 18. And by the end of the game, the offense had enough energy to orchestrate a 10-play, 20-yard drive that exhausted the final 5:05 left in the game.
“It’s a cumulative effect,” Sheridan said. “When you play a football game, you're trying to wear your opponent down. But it doesn’t happen on the first play of the game. You have to be relentless in your physicality, your toughness, your effort.”
While IU has continued to improve in almost every offensive statistic week by week, it turns to another week of preparation.
The Hoosiers are 3-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation for the first time since 1969. But that doesn’t guarantee a victory when the team travels to East Lansing, Michigan, this week.
“We haven’t gained a yard or scored a point this week,” Sheridan said. “So we’ll be coaching them hard tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday leading up to the game. We’re hopeful that it prepares them for the physicality and toughness that Michigan State will bring on Saturday.”