Only two of Indiana junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s 16 passing attempts against the University of Idaho on Saturday went 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
The Hoosiers’ deepest completion came courtesy of junior backup quarterback Jack Tuttle. Tuttle found sophomore tight end A.J. Barner before Barner blazed past the Vandals’ defensive backs for a 76-yard touchdown.
If Indiana’s offense wants to keep up with a team like the No. 8 University of Cincinnati, it’s going to need to put more emphasis on the deep passing game.
“That’s an area that we need to improve on,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said in a press conference Monday. “We have shown with this group over the last few years that they’re capable of doing it.”
Still, Penix missed an open senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle in the third quarter, which would have been good for at least 50 yards.
“I feel like I jumped just a half second too early,” Fryfogle said. “I wish I could get that play back, but I know we’re gonna have a lot of opportunities coming up.”
Fryfogle, Penix and Indiana’s coaches were all in agreement Monday — the offense has to put more emphasis on the deep passing game, although two of Indiana’s drives with Penix began with the team less than 30 yards away from the Vandals’ endzone.
Penix completed 42.5% of passes 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage for five touchdowns and two interceptions in 2020.
“We definitely want to connect on deeper routes,” Penix said. “Those explosive plays definitely make a difference in the game.”
Indiana relied heavily on the run and made use of shorter, easier passes earlier in the game against Idaho to get Penix into a rhythm, offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. Penix’s first quarter completions gained an average of 6 yards.
The Hoosiers also worked to establish the run in order to get Penix more comfortable in passing situations, head coach Tom Allen said.
The Hoosiers ran the ball 22 times compared to 11 passing attempts in the first half. Graduate student running back Stephen Carr eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the first time since his freshman year at the University of Southern California.
“[Carr] was our offensive player of the game, and I think that’s indicative of how the offensive line blocked,” Allen said.
Sheridan said the team needs to improve with vertical passing, and that all players on the field from the offensive line to the receivers need to be on the same page for a deeper pass play to work out.
“I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Sheridan said. “I thought Mike played with more confidence. I thought he was more comfortable out there.”