The Other Sideline is a weekly segment where the Indiana Daily Student interviews a student reporter from Indiana football’s weekend opponent. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Indiana football was shutout against Penn State on Oct. 2, 24-0, the first time it has failed to score in a game since Oct. 14, 2000.
The Hoosiers are off this week before taking on No. 11 Michigan State for Homecoming on Oct. 16.
In this week’s The Other Sideline, the Indiana Daily Student talked to three reporters at Indiana outlets covering the team.
IDS: What can fans make of Indiana’s first five games?
Luke Christopher Norton, Indiana Daily Student: For this season, Indiana has a lot of offensive woes it needs to fix as soon as possible if a bowl game is to be in the cards. As for big-picture matters, building a program takes time. Head coach Tom Allen can’t snap his fingers and have a top-10 program overnight — even the blue bloods have ups and downs. For what it’s worth, Indiana has only had quality losses and was pretty competitive against Cincinnati before the targeting call on senior linebacker Micah McFadden.
Tyler Tachman, The Hoosier Network: It has become clear that Indiana wasn’t ready to take on the lofty expectations and increased pressure from this offseason. There’s still a significant gap between Indiana and being a top-25 program. To be a part of the national conversation, the Hoosiers have to produce on a consistent basis. A 2-3 start isn’t good enough and Indiana hasn’t proven the ability to replicate last season’s success.
Will Trubshaw, IUSTV: The team is coming back down to earth after last year. But the three losses are to the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the country according to the AP Poll. It’s not like they lost to some scrubs — they took care of who they needed to. That’s not exactly easy and it’s not going to get any easier. Just tempering expectations is probably the main thing fans need to do right now. It’s not a great start, but it could be a lot worse.
IDS: How does Indiana move forward from the injuries it has sustained?
Norton: Indiana needs to change the way it plays offense. Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was and is the team’s starter because of his high ceiling. Junior quarterback Jack Tuttle doesn’t have that same kind of playmaking ability. What they can try is to just go for efficiency in the short passing game with plays that get the ball out of Tuttle’s hand quickly, which would help mitigate blocking issues on the offensive line.
Allen said most of the defensive players who sustained injuries should be ready to practice when the team prepares for Michigan State next week. For Indiana to win, that side of the ball needs to be healthy for the gauntlet of running backs it’ll face in the rest of the season.
Tachman: In my opinion, the biggest injury blow this season was when graduate wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr. tore his ACL. For the first three games, Matthews was Indiana's most explosive player and gave the underwhelming passing game a much-needed spark.
Without Matthews, Indiana’s receiving corps as a whole has struggled. Senior Ty Fryfogle, who needed to be a legitimate No. 1 option, has had issues with drops this season. Junior Miles Marshall, who seemed primed for a breakout season, has just eight catches. Those two, along with junior Jacolby Hewitt, sophomore Javon Swinton and senior Peyton Hendershot, need to step up for Indiana to help get the offense on track.
Trubshaw: At every press conference, the players say it’s “Next man up,” and in some respects we’ve seen that. On the defensive end against Penn State, they lost a lot of guys and didn’t have junior cornerback Tiawan Mullen to start, but they held Penn State to 24 points. The bye week is going to help too in getting some of that secondary ready. And the Penix injury, that’s just a different animal. Everyone knows when he’s at his best, it’s a different Indiana team, but fans have grown accustomed to him getting hurt. It’s unbelievable the streak of bad luck he’s having, but at some point you just have to embrace “Next man up.”
IDS: Despite the start to the season, what’s gone right so far?
Norton: Indiana’s defense has kept them in games when the offense hasn’t returned the favor. You can’t blame it for Iowa’s high scoring — 17 of those points came off of offensive turnovers. The defense was also dominating the University of Cincinnati’s offense before losing its leader to a targeting penalty. It’s Allen’s bread and butter, and Charlton Warren has been impressive as its coordinator.
Tachman: This is tough because what has gone right is minimal. Indiana’s linebacking duo of McFadden and senior Cam Jones, however, has been a bright spot. Both rank in the top three on the team in tackles, only behind graduate lineman Ryder Anderson, and have been the physical presence that Indiana needs in the middle of its defense. Graduate lineman Weston Kramer, a transfer from Northern Illinois University, has also been a nice addition to the defensive line, leading with his energy and intensity.
Trubshaw: Look at the defense. McFadden, save for the two quarters he didn’t play because of the targeting penalty, he’s been a stud. There have been moments that it struggled — there were a couple of drives against Penn State they just looked out of gas — but I’ve been impressed with the defense and Warren. The grad transfers too — Matthews, graduate running back Stephen Carr when the offensive line opens up a hole for him and on defense, junior linebacker Jaren Handy and Anderson.
IDS: Who has been Indiana’s first half MVP?
Norton: McFadden. If you need elaboration, just look at how the defense fell apart after losing him against Cincinnati. McFadden makes plays himself and leads the defense to make the plays he can’t. He forms a dynamic one-two punch with Jones, and the two say they can read the other’s mind on the field.
Tachman: Anderson. After transferring from the University of Mississippi this offseason, Anderson has quickly become an indispensable piece of the Hoosiers’ defense with both his tangible and intangible traits. He leads Indiana in tackles with 29 and sacks with three. Anderson has taken on a huge leadership role and tried to keep the team together during its subpar start.
Trubshaw: I’ll say it’s a tie with Carr and McFadden. On the offensive side of the ball, Carr has had the most consistent impact week in and week out. He’s had a couple of 100-yard rushing games, a couple two-touchdown games. He’s been the real deal. On defense, McFadden is the guy. He’s the thing that makes that defense run.
IDS: Looking at the remaining schedule, what do you predict Indiana’s final record to be?
Norton: 6-6. I think Indiana shouldn’t be counted out at home against Michigan State. I don’t anticipate that being a win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Indiana found a way. Indiana should beat the teams it's traditionally done well against in Maryland and Rutgers. I don’t think Minnesota’s defense is a match for Indiana’s offense, and the Hoosiers should be able to beat the Boilermakers. On the other hand, Indiana’s offense desperately needs to change if it wants to sneak in a win against a ranked opponent and avoid a loss against a team their defense beats.
Tachman: 6-6. Given how Indiana has performed the first half of the season, it’s difficult to see them knocking off any of the three remaining ranked teams on their schedule: Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. I think six wins is an optimistic view because it's entirely possible that Indiana could drop another game to either Purdue, Rutgers or Maryland. The Hoosiers undoubtedly have their work cut out for them.
Trubshaw: I think they’ll be 6-6 on the year. I don’t think they beat Ohio State or Michigan, I think Rutgers gives them a stunner at home, but they handle their business against Minnesota and Purdue. That’s 4-3 the rest of the way, so I expect them to be better coming out of the bye to be a better team.