Bloomington, Ind. – With the season opener just two weeks away, the IU football team went through an important 100-play scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Saturday’s scrimmage – which featured approximately 40 plays for both the No. 1 units, 40 plays for the No. 2s, and 20 plays for the No. 3s – will provide the IU coaching staff with some answers about who’s going to be playing when the season kicks off Sept. 1 against Indiana State.
“I think the No. 1 thing we have to get out of the scrimmage is a feel for where everyone is on the depth chart as we look at travel squads, as we fill out special teams, things like that,” said IU Coach Bill Lynch.
That’s why Lynch and his staff were headed back to their Memorial Stadium offices Saturday night after dinner to break down the film from Saturday afternoon. While the first 12 days of fall camp have given them a good feel for who’s ready to contribute, Saturday’s scrimmage gave them a chance to watch how players dealt with a game-type atmosphere and not having a coach working and talking with them after each rep like they generally do in camp.
If the Memorial Stadium scoreboard had been turned on, it would have appeared to be a good day for the defense. The day’s only offensive touchdown came on a Kellen Lewis four-yard run during red zone work when the No. 1 offense scored against the No. 2 defense. Otherwise, all of the points came from field goals by Austin Starr and Kevin Trulock, along with a trio of pseudo-touchdowns by Ray Fisher and Tracy Porter on special teams. Fisher scored on a punt return and a kickoff return against coverage units that weren’t allowed to tackle, and Porter added his own score on a punt return as well.
“I think our return game is a strength going into it,” Lynch said. “(Marcus) Thigpen and Porter are pretty darned good, and then you put Ray Fisher in the mix and you’ve got another guy who can really run.”
But Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t about putting points on the board. Each offensive series was limited to eight plays, which occasionally put a halt to productive drives before the offense had a chance to punch the ball into the end zone. The offense was also missing a handful of important players, as James Hardy (broken finger) and James Bailey (wedding) were both absent.
“It’s a little different not having them in there,” said Lewis. “The two guys in there today, (Chris) Banks and (Terrance) Turner, they are guys that got a lot of reps that redshirted. I have confidence in them too, but it’s different throwing to a guy whose 6’7” going against a 5’10” defensive back.”
Despite those absences and the lack of point production, Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada said he was pleased with what he saw.
“I thought we did a good job,” Canada said. “We had one (red zone) series where we got a sack, and got ourselves out of scoring, but otherwise I thought it was a good job.
“We moved the ball well. We were close to 50/50 run and pass, which I wanted to do. I think we ran the ball pretty good today. There’s always a bunch to correct, but I was happy overall. We had some young receivers come out there and play a lot more than they usually would with the James brothers out, and that’s good for them.”
Lewis finished the scrimmage 8-of-17 passing for 120 yards and added another 36 yards rushing on seven carries. His top target was Turner, who caught three passes for 53 yards. On the ground, Marcus Thigpen carried 11 times for 29 yards, while Demetrius McCray added 38 yards on eight carries. Second-string quarterback Ben Chappell, meanwhile, was 6-of-16 passing for 67 yards.
While those aren’t staggering numbers by any means, both Lynch and Canada were pleased with the lack of turnovers – the only interception was by No. 3 quarterback Teddy Schell who was picked off by Major Ramsey – as well as the offense’s ability to handle the 25-second play clock for the first time this fall.
“I thought (Kellen) had a good day today,” Canada said. “He took care of the ball better today, he didn’t make any silly throws. He has to do that.”
The biggest question about this year’s Indiana team is on the defensive side, and that unit continues to impress during the fall. Other than a pair of screen passes that went for 30-plus yards, the defense avoided giving up any big plays in the passing game, and the longest run was a 17-yard scamper by Lewis during the first set of plays for the No. 1 offense.
Among the players who impressed were sophomore safety Nick Polk and freshman defensive tackle Jeff Boyd. Polk forced a Thigpen fumble and also had a pass broken up on a deep throw to Andrew Means, while Boyd had a sack of Chappell along with a couple of stops behind the line of scrimmage on running plays.
Boyd is among the players who’s still battling for an opportunity to play this fall. Defensive tackle is one of the deeper spots on the team and George said he’d prefer to redshirt Boyd, but he’s also done enough good things to make IU Co-Defensive Coordinator Brian George comfortable with the idea of playing him if need be.
“Jeff is doing a great job,” George said. “He’s a young guy, but he’s learned things pretty quickly, and he’s an athletic big man. I think strength wise he has a ways to go, but as far as athletically and understanding, he’s done a great job of picking things up.”
It was a day that left the offensive and defensive coaches pleased with what they saw in person, and anxious to take a closer look at the scrimmage tonight on film.
“We did some things well, I’m sure there were a lot of mistakes we’ll see on tape,” said George. “This was a good chance to see who’s ready and a final run through to determine some of the spots. Some guys are playing pretty decent. In general, we did some things that we set as our goals, but there’s still a lot to work on.”