BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Back-to-back 5-7 seasons don’t really tell the whole story about the path that Indiana football has been on since Tom Allen took over as head coach. The Hoosiers are better, much better.
Now, in 2019, it’s time to prove it.
It’s time to start making some noise in the Big Ten and assert their dominance within the state. That starts Saturday against Ball State. It’s technically a Cardinals' home game, but the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Kickoff is at Noon ET (TV: CBS Sports Network)
Here are five things I want to see in the opener:
1. A great debut from rookie QB Michael Penix Jr.
A competitive quarterback competition all of August was entertaining, and redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr., came out the winner, beating out incumbent Peyton Ramsey and transfer Jack Tuttle. It was the right choice, and I wrote a week or so that it had to be that choice.
So now it’s up to Penix to show that he was the right choice and put some points on the board. Penix has a huge arm and he knows the playbook well. A 30-point day — or more — from this offense is what I’d like to see.
2. Dramatic rise in creativity under OC Kalen DeBoer
Kalen DeBoer has had huge success everywhere he’s been, which is why Indiana didn’t mind signing him to an $800,000 deal, making him one of the highest-paid offensive coordinators in the Big Ten. He has plenty of weapons to work with here, and he’s very excited about what Penix can do at quarterback.
Indiana has an above-average offensive line, a ton of weapons at wide receiver and a stable full of quality backs behind Stevie Scott. Fans are looking forward to seeing this offense explode, and I want to see that, too.
3.IU’s 'Swarm Defense’ takes over the game and dominates
Kane Wommack is only 32 years old, but he’s more than ready to be Indiana’s new defensive coordinator. His dad, Dave, was a DC for years too, and he’s got the bones to make it happen as a Tom Allen protege. He’s been a coordinator at two stops already (Eastern Illinois, South Alabama) and he spent a year here with Allen as linebackers coach in 2018.
Wommack has a lot of energy, and he really pushes his guys to play with a lot of energy, too. The secondary is solid and there’s plenty of talent elsewhere as well. This group has the potential to be a top-25 defense, and they need to show that right from the get-go.
4. Who gets the carries at running back with so much depth
Stevie Scott had a great freshman debut a year ago, rocketing up the depth chart and starting the entire season. He gained 1,137 yards on the season, and averagedd 5.0 yards per carry. The running back room is crowded now, though.
Cole Gest, who got hurt last year and opened the door for Scott, is back and healthy and ready to contribute. Ronnie Walker has had a good camp and everyone is looking forward to seeing what true freshman Sampson James can do after spurning Ohio State to sign with Indiana.
5. Will the defensive line hold up in first test?
If there’s one position group on this team that’s still a big question mark, it’s probably the defensive line. There’s some returning talent here, but there are also several freshmen who are pushing for playing time, especially in the interior.
There’s a lot of pressure on this group, because they need to be stout against the run and also put some pressure on the quarterback. Are they capable of doing that? We’ll find out quickly, starting on Saturday against Ball State.