Indiana’s secondary held up without starting cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor last weekend against Michigan State, but the test gets even more difficult on Saturday night.
Few if any teams in America can put three receivers on the field as talented as Ohio State’s trio.
Garrett Wilson (31 reception, 546 yards, 6 TDs), Chris Olave (30 receptions, 494 yards, 7 TDs), and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (23 receptions, 452 yards, 3 TDs) are a nightmare for opposing defenses, and a big reason why the Buckeyes are averaging 48.5 points per game through the first half of the season.
“They’re just so explosive. Their receiver core is different than you usually will see,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said this week. “They have three receivers that are as good as anybody you’re going to face in the country. So that puts a lot of stress on you.”
The return of Mullen and Taylor might help to alleviate some of that stress, but it isn’t clear that they will play against the No. 5 Buckeyes (7:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC).
Mullen was not in uniform against the Spartans, and he was wearing a walking boot to stabilize whatever lower leg injury he has. Taylor on the other hand was dressed but only played briefly before deciding he wasn’t able to be effective.
“Both have been working extremely hard,” Allen said on Thursday. “Have gotten them out there at different times. Just trying to see where they’re at. So, we don’t know for sure yet, but trying to get them ready for sure. We’d love to get those guys back. We definitely need them.”
Indiana will also need some points against the Buckeyes if they want to have a chance.
Ohio State nearly scored as many points (66) in its last game vs. Maryland as Indiana has in all five of its contests against FBS competition (78).
Unlike Ohio State, IU is not getting big plays out of its receivers. The Hoosiers have just one healthy wideout with more than 12 catches six games into the season. That is Ty Fryfogle, with 33 receptions for 337 yards, but his average yards per reception are way down, from a career-best 19.5 in 2020 to 10.2 on the 2021 campaign.
No receiver has more than one touchdown, and no one available for the rest of the season has a catch that went for more than 34 yards.
Allen was asked on Wednesday on his radio show about whether the receiver group is getting enough separation on their routes, and he went well beyond that.
“No, they’re not (getting separation). It’s a concern, there’s no doubt,” Allen told IU radio voice Don Fischer. “And I haven’t seen us coming down with 50/50 balls, we haven’t caught the ball the same way (without drops) that we did last year, and that’s a concern. They’ve just got to make plays and make those tough contested catches.”
Indiana lost perhaps its biggest threat to make big plays when D.J. Matthews suffered a season-ending injury. He reported that he had successful knee surgery on Thursday. Matthews is eligible to redshirt and return in 2022, but the Hoosiers need multiple receivers to step up now if they have any hope of turning around their season.
Starter Miles Marshall hasn’t proven to be able to become a high volume receiver. He has just 12 catches for 160 yards in six games.
Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley hasn’t been available the last two games and he has just four catches for 20 yards. Javon Swinton (9 receptions, 71 yards) and Jacolby Hewitt (5 catches, 36 yards) also haven’t produced at a high level.
Beyond that group Allen and his staff might have to turn to true freshmen. The Hoosiers brought in a talented crop of receivers in the 2021 class including 4-stars Malachi Holt-Bennett and Jaquez Smith. Jordyn Williams also flashed potential at times during fall camp. To this point none of them have seen significant playing time and none have a catch.
The opportunities should be there for the up-and-comers to prove themselves. Indiana appears to want to transition to more four and five-wide sets if they can find the bodies ready to be on the field.
And they had better find them fast if they want to avoid getting lapped in what could otherwise end up being a one-on-none track meet on Saturday.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
- Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
- You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
- Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no cost to you.