Three games into Indiana football’s season, there’s now a sample size of data to analyze offensive trends. Here’s some of the good and the bad of what the Hoosiers have shown so far.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
There’s no question that junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has struggled through the first three games of the season. Penix reached his 2020 interception total by the second quarter against the University of Cincinnati, then surpassed it by two interceptions later that game.
But Penix showed flashes of his 2019-2020 self between those interceptions for the first time this year. Last season he completed 42.5% of his passes 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage for six touchdowns. Those throws made up 18.2% of his total passing attempts in 2020.
For the first two games this season, he completed none of his five attempts in that area and only threw deep on 11.36% of his dropbacks.
Penix’s deep ball showed signs of life against Cincinnati. Of his 10 attempts over 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he completed three for a total of 101 yards. All three were hauled in by graduate student wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr., who was targeted four times.
As for his interceptions, head coach Tom Allen and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said they were the result of Penix simply trying to do too much.
On Penix’s first interception against Iowa, Matthews slipped in his route and deflected the ball into the air. His second was a bad read, and the third was a bad decision on a scramble where he tried to force a throw to a receiver whose back was turned.
Penix’s first interception against Cincinnati was a throw to a covered senior tight end Peyton Hendershot while a defensive lineman appeared to hit Penix’s forearm with his hand. His second was a pressured, desperate throw, and his third was nearly the exact same issue as the third against Iowa.
That’s one bobbled ball, one outright bad read and four pressured throws into coverage in desperate attempts to get the ball out. These are all fixable issues.
In the end, Penix gives the offense and team as a whole a much higher ceiling. He makes plays that, as Allen said, few guys in the country can. Despite a rough finish against Cincinnati, he’s starting to look a bit more like himself too.
For example, Indiana only asked Penix to throw behind the line of scrimmage on 12.7% of his throws in 2020. With junior quarterback Jack Tuttle, that number jumped to 20.8%.
Tuttle is a perfectly good quarterback, but if Sheridan intends to stick with his explosive play-dependent offense, it necessitates a quarterback that can make those plays happen.
The Wide Receivers
While Penix found his deep weapon in Matthews, senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle struggled against Cincinnati with a single reception on five targets.
Fryfogle was matched up with five defenders on those targets, with three targets each while defended by junior cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Arquon Bush. Fryfogle’s two drops, which equaled his total across eight games in 2020, came against Bush and graduate student cornerback Coby Bryant.
Meanwhile, Matthews left Bush and safety Ja’von Hicks in the dust in his matchups. Matthews pulled in five of his six targets, torching the two for a total of 121 yards.
Matthews wasn’t targeted when defended by the All-American Gardner, but the fact that Bush held Fryfogle catchless on three targets when Matthews burned him for 78 yards on three receptions raises concerns of Fryfogle’s potential to follow up his 2020 season.
In last season’s Peach Bowl against the University of Georgia, Bush allowed at least one reception to every receiver he was matched against, allowing 188 yards to the Bulldogs receivers.
In 2019, Whop Philyor led the Hoosiers in receptions and yards before being overtaken by Fryfogle in receiving yards during the 2020 season. Matthews’ success against Cincinnati suggests he could continue the trend, bringing in more yards as the No. 2 receiver.
As of now, Fryfogle and Matthews each have the same number of receptions with 11 total, but Matthews has 150 yards to Fryfogle’s 126. Fryfogle’s true breakout game in 2020 came against Michigan, which began his streak of three games with over 100 receiving yards. It’s a bit early to call Saturday Matthews’ breakout, but it was a standout performance.
There’s still plenty of season to go, but if Penix continues to develop chemistry with Matthews, he could overtake Fryfogle as the Hoosiers’ primary big play option at receiver.
All statistics in this piece were sourced from Pro Football Focus and IU Athletics.