For the first time in 2023, game week has arrived for Indiana football.
The Hoosiers take the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday against No. 3 Ohio State. After four weeks of fall camp, IU moves into game-prep mode to take on one of the top teams in the nation.
Head coach Tom Allen, co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri, and offensive coordinator Walt Bell met with the media Monday for their first weekly press conference of the season to discuss their squad and the upcoming battle with OSU.
Here are a few notable things they discussed.
Running back rotation
Indiana’s running backs, along with wide receivers, are one of the more talented groups on the team.
It helps that the running back room contains All-American returner Jaylin Lucas, perhaps the most dynamic playmaker the Hoosiers have. Josh Henderson finished third on the team in receiving last season, and led IU with eight combined rushing and receiving touchdowns. Wake Forest transfer Christian Turner steps into the backfield picture after Shaun Shivers graduated.
Bell was asked Monday how the rotation of those three players could play out, with Lucas seeing time at slot receiver and potential formations with two running backs on the field together. But Bell suggested Indiana’s backfield might have another name to watch.
“The thing with Jaylin is, he’s a guy who can truly play all over the football field. Josh has really good ball skills. Christian has played a lot of really valuable reps. Trent Howland is a big, thick physical kid. So you’ve got three or four guys there that you feel really comfortable with,” Bell said. “(We) feel really good about all four of those backs. For us, (the rotation is) just game plan-driven, formation-driven. What can we do to create space touches for (Lucas)? How can we make sure … not only he’s getting the ball, but when he does possess the ball, it’s in the right spots, so he can be at his best? But we’re excited about all four of those guys, and excited for Saturday.”
Howland — 6-foot-3, 240 pounds — is Indiana’s biggest running back, by a wide margin. He’s built like a linebacker, and he runs like one — he’s a bruiser. This was evident in camp, but it was unclear if IU would make use of him this year with all the other talent in the room. But given Bell’s answer, it’s not hard to see the Hoosiers using Howland in short-yardage situations.
Preparing for two quarterbacks
Indiana is not the only team playing at Memorial Stadium on Saturday with a publicly unresolved quarterback competition.
The Hoosiers named their starting quarterback internally, but are not announcing their decision before the game. But Ohio State has also yet to announce who will start at quarterback.
Buckeyes junior Kyle McCord and redshirt freshman Devin Brown have been battling for the starting job dating back to spring ball — similarly as Brendan Sorsby and Tayven Jackson have at IU. OSU’s uncertainty at quarterback creates challenges for Indiana’s defense in preparing for the game.
And Allen said the Hoosiers are planning as if both McCord and Brown will play.
“The unknown to me, when you think about quarterback-wise, we’ve had — I think it’s not very many times we’ve had a quarterback that we don’t really know a lot about. You have to go back to high school film for both of these guys. So I think that makes it unique,” Allen said. “They’re also different quarterbacks as well. They have different skill sets. Both can throw the ball extremely well, and one’s more athletic than the other one is. From a running perspective, both can elude things. That creates challenges without question, but we’re preparing for that. We’re preparing for both.”
Guerrieri joined IU in the offseason after spending 2022 as an analyst with the Buckeyes, so he has some more familiarity with their system. And that’s a base knowledge he’s leaning on as he and the defensive staff build a game plan for McCord, Brown, or both.
But Guerrieri said that because the coaches had a whole offseason to think about this game, preparation for the quarterback possibilities won’t take away from other things IU needs to focus on.
“Holistically, you know how a system has functioned for a number of years. And then you try to best guess what you see on film, what those guys who do best and how those things could be featured from that standpoint,” Guerrieri said. “Other times in a gameplan week when we have a shorter amount of time and you have two drastically different types of players, you can say, ‘What’s the plan for this versus the plan for that,’ and it sometimes those packages have to be tighter because of that. You can’t just smear maybe your whole defense over everything from that standpoint. But in an opening game, it’s, ‘What’s the overall approach? What’s the flavor of each individual player?’ And you best attack from there. You have a lot of time in the summer to plan those things.”
And here’s the kicker
IU’s most prominent position battle was obviously at quarterback.
But another position left up in the air has been kicker. After Charles Campbell transferred to Tennessee, the Hoosiers need a new starting placekicker for the first time since 2020.
And throughout fall camp, redshirt sophomore Chris Freeman and true freshman Nico Radicic have competed for the job. Freeman was IU’s kickoff specialist last season, and Allen confirmed Monday he will be in that role again. Radicic was not in Bloomington for spring ball, but the Coppell, Tex. native is an acclaimed prospect — he was rated as the No. 3 kicker in the class of 2023 by 247Sports.
Allen said the Hoosiers now have starting placekicker, and the players know the decision. But, just like with quarterback, he declined to publicly name a starter before the Ohio State game.
And Allen did not shut down the possibility of using multiple placekickers depending on the field goal distance and game situation.
“The field goals themselves is where we’re still kind of working through. I think it could be a situation where it’s distance-driven based on certain parts of the field, different areas where guys are better at, even locations, hashes, and maybe more probably distance than anything,” Allen said. “I feel good about the multiple options we have. Both Chris and Nico have really done well. I feel like those guys have put themselves in position to be ready when called upon. We’ll probably let the situation dictate that.”
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