With UConn football heading out to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, we spoke with Auston Matricardi of Crimson Quarry, SB Nation’s Indiana site, to get an inside look at the Huskies’ upcoming opponent.
The UConn Blog: What’s the status of quarterback Michael Penix? What does Penix bring to the table if he is able to play, and who is the likely starter if not him?
Crimson Quarry: As of now (Tuesday), Penix is a game-time decision. I personally don’t expect him to play as I think they want him to be completely healthy for the Michigan State game next week.
If Penix is able to play he brings a lot to the table. He has a really strong arm that allows him to make plays down the field, but he’s also capable of hitting the short, quick passes and keeping the offense moving if need be. He’s also a strong runner and is more than capable of picking up yards in chunks on the ground, though that typically comes as a last resort from him — he doesn’t want to be known as a “dual-threat” quarterback. He prefers to think of himself as a pro-style quarterback that can run.
If Penix doesn’t play, Peyton Ramsey will almost certainly be the starter. The scouting report on him is simple: Think of the blandest mayonnaise that you’ve ever had in your life. Nothing special about it, just very, very mayo. That’s Peyton Ramsey. He’ll be good enough to get the job done, but he doesn’t have the arm that Penix does and at the same time he doesn’t have the legs that Penix does. He’s a game manager in the truest sense.
TUCB: How has the start to the season for Indiana compared to your expectations?
CQ: This start to the season is just about what I expected. The Hoosiers beat the teams they should’ve beaten and lost to the team they should’ve lost to. Perhaps the score of the Ball State game was a little tighter and the Ohio State game was a little more of a beatdown than I expected, but all in all the Hoosiers are on schedule in terms of their record.
TUCB: What is your confidence level in the offensive line?
CQ: The jury is still out on the offensive line for me. It’s been hard to judge because they’ve played an inferior opponent and performed relatively well (Eastern Illinois) and also played a Football Death Machine and gotten chewed up (Ohio State). If I had to lean either way it’d be toward the negative, just because of their performance against Ball State, but I’d like to get some more data points, particularly ones against more middle-of-the-road defenses, before I truly make a judgment.
TUCB: The Hoosiers run game has struggled to get going, any concerns about that?
CQ: There are definitely concerns there just because the run game has been a crucial part of IU’s identity for however many years now. The Hoosiers have had a string of pretty talented backs ranging from Tevin Coleman to Jordan Howard, Devine Redding and on. I’m not necessarily sure that the lack of production is squarely on running back Stevie Scott, as the offensive line is questionable, but for now he’s kind of the big thing to watch. There’s definitely talent in the backfield for IU between Scott and highly-rated recruits like Ronnie Walker Jr. and Sampson James, but it’s yet to show against a real team this season.
TUCB: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Indiana defense?
CQ: They’re kind of one and the same for the IU defense. The group is loaded with young talent, good athletes that are fast and capable of making plays. It’s also bad because they have very little experience and are prone to making mistakes like any group of young players. They’ve lacked consistency over the course of the season so far: at times they’ve performed well and made big stops and other times they’ve given up a billion points to Ohio State (I guess that was really just once, but still).
There are a few upperclassmen who have stood out so far and those guys have been the leaders of the defense. Marcelino Ball has been an important part of the D for a few years now at the Husky position for IU which is a linebacker/nickel back/safety hybrid. Because of his peculiar position, he’s a force in both the run and pass games.
Reakwon Jones is another player who’s been good so far. He gets all over the field from his spot at linebacker while also making plays in the backfield.
If there’s a concern, it’s that the defense hasn’t created many takeaways. Tom Allen preaches takeaways as one of the most important things a defense can do. Early in his tenure there was a stretch where the Hoosiers would get at least one game after game, but that hasn’t been the case this season. The Hoosiers have just one, an interception, through three games which he can’t be happy about. The D needs to step up and make big plays.
TUCB: How do you feel about the 28-point spread Indiana is favored by?
CQ: The thing about Vegas is that they usually manage to get their lines just about right, otherwise they wouldn’t be Vegas. 28 is right at the point where I could see it going either way, which is the point of the line.
If I’ve done my math right, which I like to think I have, Bill C’s SP+ model has the Hoosiers favored by 21.8 after adjusting for the game being played in Bloomington. Do with that what you will. If I had to make a bet, especially with Ramsey at QB for Indiana, I’d go with the Huskies to cover.
TUCB: How excited are you for the return visit to Rentschler Field next year?
CQ: Let’s see how Saturday’s game goes and then I’ll get back to you, though I guess that there could be worse places to visit.