Two significant recurring themes emerged from Indiana’s first four games of the season, and there is a link between them.
Earlier this week we discussed how IU’s slow starts are making life difficult. That phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the offensive line, but it seems fair to say Indiana’s five in the trenches have been a net negative through the first quarter of the 2022 campaign.
It’s no surprise the line is one of the team’s weaknesses. Tom Allen wasn’t afraid to say that was a group he was most concerned about coming into the season, and two major injuries have only exacerbated the problem. Starting right tackle Matthew Bedford, a four-year starter and one of the team’s leaders, was lost for the season in week one. Starting center Zach Carpenter, a Michigan transfer, has missed the last two games with a hand injury. His backup is also hurt, leaving the starting center job to Caleb Murphy, a local product who only switched to offensive line in spring practice.
It feels safe to say tonight’s game against Nebraska will end up being a major turning point in the season. Win, and IU is 4-1 with a Big Ten road victory in its pocket. But lose to a 1-3 Cornhusker program going through an upheaval, and it won’t be easy to find three wins in Indiana’s remaining seven games — all against the Big Ten East and then rival Purdue.
So with so much on the line Saturday night at a sold out Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, don’t expect Allen to use hope as a strategy for fixing what ails his offensive line.
“We’re going to have to look at adjusting maybe some of the five we play with, just try to find the best combination that we have to go with,” Allen said earlier in the week. “That’s obviously on the table, part of our discussions, trying to get the best five guys on the field each and every time we play.”
Carpenter is day-to-day. If he can play, he’ll play, and beyond him it looks like IU has no options beyond Murphy. At left tackle, Luke Haggard has been playing relatively well. He seems to be locked in.
But all options are the table elsewhere — Mike Katic and left guard, Tim Weaver and right guard, and Parker Hanna at right tackle have all been pushed, with the latter two most at risk when it comes to starting going forward.
For this week’s analysis of PFF Grades, here is how IU offensive line is grading through four weeks.
- Kahlil Benson (169 snaps) – 64
- Luke Haggard (343 snaps) – 56.4
- Parker Hanna (282 snaps) – 53.2
- Mike Katic (343 snaps) – 50.6
- Zach Carpenter (140 snaps) – 49.8
- Josh Sales (33 snaps) – 49.4
- Tim Weaver (174 snaps) – 47.4
- Caleb Murphy (211 snaps) – 34.6
- Luke Haggard – 77.9
- Josh Sales – 77.7
- Kahlil Benson – 64.2
- Mike Katic – 60.5
- Tim Weaver – 49.5
- Zach Carpenter – 46.9
- Parker Hanna – 38.7
- Caleb Murphy – 20.0
PFF is a human analysis, of course, it’s not the be-all-end-all. We know based on interactions with the staff — they don’t always agree with what PFF is saying. But as data builds over time, it is at least a directional indicator.
The clear directions things could go is Kahlil Benson at right guard and Josh Sales at right tackle, replacing Weaver and Hanna, respectively.
Now, would Allen be willing to put two young players together as starters on the same side of a struggling line? That remains to be seen. Neither has started a college game to this point in their careers, but both are trending in that direction.
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