Went back into the history box and my-oh-my, was it wild to see I’ve been writing these columns for four years now. Fun stuff. I’ll use this space above the break to revisit the prior week’s matchup for accountability purposes but for now, it is just serving as an intro/run on sentence.
The Indiana Hoosiers are an interesting ball club. They went 6-2 last season and 4-1 before starting quarterback Michael Penix went down with an ACL injury in their win over Maryland. They’re defensively-oriented, allowing just 20.8 points/game. The offense was high-powered when Penix was in charge, as they averaged 34 points and 393 yards per game. They were decidedly more average in games he didn’t finish or play, scoring 20.3 and accumulating 312 yards a game.
So why not Penix as the key to the matchup? Well, I am liable to believe they’ll ease him back into the game despite rhetoric to the otherwise and will need to lean on the playmakers around him to generate the Hoosier offense. Front of the line is Ty Frogle, IU’s returning third team All-American and the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year.
In 2020, he caught 37 balls for 721 yards for a big-time 19.5 yards/catch. He added 7 touchdowns to bring his career number 13. He probably could have gone pro but decided to return to Bloomington and see if he can make #9WIndiana finally happen.
It’s easy to see what he brings to IU’s offense as an over-the-top threat in a physical body despite having true breakaway speed. He also is great in going and getting the ball in traffic and is a huge threat on the back shoulder throws. He caught 9 contested 15+ yard passes which was 2 more than any other receiver. (PFF) The Hoosiers will use him a smidge in the screen/behind-the-line-of-scrimmage pass game but he makes his hay down the field.
Enter Iowa’s secondary, specifically Riley Moss and Matt Hankins.
Moss returns as Iowa’s highest rated defender according to Pro Football Focus and was good down the field, if a little boom-or-bust. He allowed just one completion on four passes over 20 yards and it went for 56 yards. He also intercepted one in that range as well. Both Moss & Hankins are top 25 coverage guys in zone, according to PFF.
That is just half the story with guarding Fryfogle - keeping him in front and then displacing him from the ball - as he is a load to bring down once he’s got the ball. Yet Iowa seems up to the task, as Riley Moss described their desire earlier this week: “It kind of just fits into what we do in practice every day. I’ve never really backed down from anything and neither has (Matt Hankins). We love coming up and hitting.”
Some additional exciting rhetoric is how Iowa seems to have adjusted from hesitancy to excitement in the strong Week 1 opponent - a bit of a flip from Kirk Ferentz’s rhetoric at media day. From Chad Leistikow:
With Iowa having such a veteran defense, players haven’t had to worry as much about basic fundamentals or concepts. So, they’ve been looking at Indiana film for weeks. Hankins said that during camp, defensive players were given the option of going back to the team hotel (a walk across Melrose Avenue this year) or going to the team building to watch more film.
He said players overwhelmingly were hunkering down in the film room, with a desire to go from good to great.
In other words, they should be ready.
Fryfogle’s best games last year was the three-game stretch before Penix went down as he had 25 catches for 560 yards (78% of his season output) and 6 TDs. So if there is a go-to target for Penix to regain his rhythm, it will be Fryfogle and hitch routes in front of the coverage will be one way to do that.
For Iowa, the key will to bring him down upon those catches (some breakups would be nice, too!) while protecting against the deep ball Fryfogle is so adept at catching. He may get his numbers but Iowa has shown an ability to limit explosive plays throughout Phil Parker’s tenure.
If the Hawks are able to do it once again, they’ll put themselves in great position to tally a win in Iowa’s first opening game against a ranked opponent since Kirk Ferentz’s second season. If they’re not, Parker has shown a willingness to go away from defensive backs who aren’t cutting it and what was initially thought to be a strength could turn into a weakness.