With Indiana football set to take on No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, IU has plenty to worry about.
But for as much of those concerns would come from the talent on the other sideline, the Hoosiers have a lot of internal issues to focus on. Here are a few of those points, identified during Monday’s media availability with head coach Tom Allen, offensive coordinator Walt Bell, and defensive coordinator Chad Wilt.
Health issue on the offensive line
IU’s offensive line had another rough day against Penn State, and during the game, they added injury to insult.
Freshman Josh Sales took over for Parker Hanna at right tackle midseason, as the transfer was particularly struggling. But Hanna took the spot back during the second quarter last week, and stayed there for the rest of the game.
Allen clarified Monday that the switch was because of injury, not performance. Sales went to the locker room with an undisclosed injury that prevented him from returning.
As of Monday, Allen was unsure of Sales’ status for the Ohio State game.
“He’s definitely been playing better for us, and just need to continue to get him more reps and continue to develop him,” Allen said. “He’s been doing a good job for us.”
IU continuing work to get touches for playmakers
Allen has talked several times about needing to get freshman running back Jaylin Lucas more involved in the offense. That’s still a work in progress, as Lucas didn’t record his first touch of the game against Penn State until the final minute of the first half — by which point, the Hoosiers were already in a deep hole on the scoreboard.
And it’s not only Lucas that IU needs to get the ball to more frequently.
Running back Josh Henderson has been one of the more productive players on the team this season. He’s IU’s leading rusher by yards per carry at 4.54, and he also leads the team in yards per reception at 12.89 (those figures exclude a few players with fewer than five carries on the season, or Connor Bazelak with one reception). Henderson’s six total touchdowns are also a team-high.
And yet, against Penn State, Henderson received just seven carries and one target. The limited opportunities are partially a byproduct of Indiana’s overall offensive struggles, but Allen and Bell know they have to get the ball to North Carolina transfer more consistently.
“We have to continue to find ways to got him more involved. I think there’s no question about it,” Allen said. “Josh, to me, has turned out to be a very complete back. I felt like that was one of his strengths going into the season, his ability to do multiple things well and that’s continued to be true.”
Tackling a priority for defense once again
The Hoosiers have been burned by missed tackles throughout their six-game losing streak. But the Penn State game might have been the unit’s worst tackling performance of the season.
Part of that is because the Nittany Lions are a talented team, and their offensive skill players made a lot of plays. But Indiana’s defense missed a lot of opportunities.
Wilt said that he and his staff, after going through film, tallied 16 missed tackles by his unit, accounting for 150 yards of offense after those initial misses. That’s a lot of second-chance yardage to give away, especially against an offense that didn’t really need it to have a big day against IU.
Wilt said tackling would be a primary focus for Indiana in practices this week, particularly on Tuesday, the team’s main contact day for practices.
“We didn’t think we tackled very well, at all, especially out in space, but also in the box,” Wilt said. “We’ve got to get out (at practice), and we’ve got to work better in space, how we’re closing distance, how we’re creating the footwork that we need to be better at.”
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