Buffkomodo: Hello anyone and everyone who happens to stumble upon this article. This week, it’s old brass spittoon week here in the B1G and OTE. That means that myself and Green Akers are preparing for a mighty showdown on Saturday as the Indiana Hoosiers take on the Michigan State Spartans. Before we preview the game, we wanted to field a few questions, touch on a few things over the season, and even give a few thoughts on our dear round ball seasons that are coming up soon. So sit back and enjoy some ramblings.
1) So….how’s your season going?
Green Akers: Well, preseason, the thought was that if some things broke right, Michigan State would probably be able to get to a bowl game, and they’re 6-0, so better than anyone could reasonably have expected. Plus, the product on the field is vastly more entertaining than we’ve seen in several years, and recruiting is looking more promising than it ever has, which, if you know the recent program context on that front, is maybe the most exciting part of all this.
Buffkomodo: It’s going much worse than anticipated. To be honest, going 2-3 into the bye week was always a very real possibility. What’s making this way worse is how Indiana is playing as a whole. It’s not the defense either, it’s the offense. Our Penix has been flaccid and now is hurt. Our receivers couldn’t catch a ball to save their NIL endorsements. Our line is just doughy. It’s not going good at all.
2) What’s been the big different maker in the season for your team?
Green Akers: The easy answer is plugging and playing a Heisman contender into an offense that hasn’t had a threat on the ground since arguably Jeremy Langford, but it goes far beyond Kenneth Walker III. Of the 14 scholarship transfers he brought in, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say nine have played large roles this year, and that’s with a couple of them dealing with injuries. Mel Tucker’s work in the portal hasn’t just brought an injection of talent; he also appears to have done it without sacrificing the culture he’s trying to build.
Buffkomodo: The difference maker, for good or for bad, has been Mike Penix so far. It’s mostly been bad too. I don’t want to come out and say we’d have done better with Tuttle or anyone else, but it’s been clear Penix has not been himself. Call it bad playcalling, call it bad blocking, but even in clean pockets he was only completing like, 50% of his passes. For anyone screaming Nick Sheridan in this section, do remember that even given a mediocre playcall, a game changing player will be able to still make some plays. Penix has made none.
3) Round ball season is upon us. Any quick early thoughts?
Green Akers: Well, it’s the first year in a while that you won’t see Michigan State viewed as much of a conference contender, and after last year, that’s totally fair. I think most Spartan fans are expectantly looking at the newcomers - three freshmen and transfer PG Tyson Walker - for salvation, but I thought Izzo consistently misused veterans like Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham, and, yes, much-commented-upon Joey Hauser.
Buffkomodo: Not to spoil my Indiana basketball preview piece, but a quick thought is while we are aged up one year, it’s still basically the same team from last year. Lose Franklin, bring in Bates. Lose Brunk who didn’t play a game, bring in Kopp. It’s basically a wash, in my opinion, talent wise. We will see how big of a difference coaching is once the season starts. I’m slightly more excited now than I was in April. That said, I wasn’t excited at all by the Woodson/Matta hire. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? We’ll see.
4) You have the opportunity to steal any coach in the B1G…(coordinator, assistant, HC)….what coach do you steal and where do put them for your team?
Green Akers: Ryan Day’s recruiting and playcalling chops are tempting, but I like what we’ve got at the top (unless I can just shove him in at OC, in which case hell yeah). Ergo, even though I think Scottie Hazelton’s pass defense will come around once they have more guys who better fit what they’re looking for, I don’t know how you wouldn’t want Iowa’s Phil Parker running your defense. He doesn’t need blue chips across the board, he replaces NFL guys at all three levels no problem, they force tons of turnovers without really gambling very much, and at this point, he’s plainly not looking for a head job somewhere else. Nationwide, I think the list of defensive assistants you’d take over Parker is maybe, MAYBE Brent Venables, but even he benefits from elite talent available to him.
Buffkomodo: I’m stealing Ryan Day and shoving him in at OC. We need one.
5) What is your favorite Brass Spittoon game you’ve watched and what is your most disappointing?
Green Akers: It was very worrisome at first, but I was in Bloomington for the 2012 game, wherein Indiana had a 17-0 lead before we even got to our seats, and despite an offense that just rode the struggle bus all year long, MSU dragged itself back to pull off the win on the backs of Le’Veon Bell and Aaron Burbridge (who, it later transpired, didn’t really know the playbook at all and was just doing whatever out there). Spectacular weather day, touched hands with a couple friends I had in grad school there at the time, didn’t get bagged by any of the 50 Indiana State Troopers lurking on IN-37. I’d mention here that Bloomington’s a vastly underrated college town and gameday experience, I have a number of other stadia to get to first but at some point, I’m definitely getting back down there.
A bad game...well, last year definitely sucked, but it also squared up with what most of us expected: a gentleman’s blowout at the hands of a much better team. As I mentioned before, in my firsthand football experience (only the last 20 years or so), losing to Indiana means Michigan State is having a really bad season, so that particular loss usually fades into the background pretty quickly.
Buffkomodo: Indiana has only won 5 bucket games in my lifetime, and 3 of those have come from when I was actually cognizant or a true fan of Indiana football. Therefore, I’d have to select the only one that truly brought me joy, being the 2016 game. Indiana beat Michigan State on a field goal to end the game. Then Sparty preceded to collapse the rest of the season robbing Indiana of any real resume to speak of.
Worst game has to be the 2018 game. I had that game circled as a game I thought Indiana could win. Went out to Holy Grail to watch the game with some friends wearing my Indiana gear. Then the game started, and I felt like crawling into a hold and dying. We left early, and I received some heckling on the way out.
Green Akers: But let me pose a couple questions in return.
Buffkomodo: By all means!
Green Akers: I’ll try to be gentle with this first one, but...
6. What happenned to Indiana?
Green Akers: It’s hard not to notice the big step back Indiana’s taken this year, but as I’ve only caught pieces of your games so far, it’s hard to diagnose based on numbers. The defense is plainly still studly, so is this playcalling? Personnel? Injuries? Or just an intensely frontloaded schedule that will see IU play FIVE top ten teams in the first seven weeks of the season?
Buffkomodo: I have said this to my wife and anyone else that will listen, but Indiana is not a “bad” 2-3 team. They got beat by Iowa, the number two ranked team in the country at the moment, surrendering only 17-20 point pending on where you sit on that game. They lost to number 3 Cincinnati after having their defensive captain ejected for targeting in a game that was much closer than the score indicates. They lost to number 7 Penn State by 24, literally holding them to 3 touchdowns and a field goal. As you’ve said, defense is not the problem.
Offensively, they just can’t click. You can’t just blame one thing either, which is much more concerning. It’s not like they have a bad line and can scheme around it. It’s not like you have bad receivers and just run screens or short routes to get them going. It’s not like you have a bad QB so you just literally tell him where to throw each time. It’s everything. Dropped passes. Bad blocks. Horrible decisions. A lot has been made of Tom Allen going for it on 4th down early in the game vs Penn State but going for a field goal late in the game. What the fuck is he suppose to do? His offense is completely, totally, utterly inept. He quite literally just thought he could avoid a shutout.
Long story short, it’s the offense.
7. Here’s a more pointed question that I’m going to assume your previous answer at least touches on, but where’s the fanbase vis-a-vis Michael Penix Jr.?
Green Akers: Last season, he looked for all the world like a program-defining cornerstone, but as has been the case three times now, his year ended on an injury. This week he’ll once again be sidelined, now with a separated shoulder. But, even before the latest injury, he was really going through it this year. So is the mood ‘please come back and save us Michael,’ or do Hoosier eyes start to scan the horizon for his replacement (because come on, it’s not going to be Jack Tuttle)?
Buffkomodo: Mike Penix is quite an enigma, isn’t he? He looked like he had potential his freshman year, and would have taken the job if he had led Indiana to an upset against Penn State. Sadly, torn ACL and done. Sophomore year, comes out, takes Peyton’s job, and proceeds to look fairly good until that dreaded injury bug hit him again. Last year, I noticed early on he just seemed…out of step…with his receivers. Even in the Penn State win, he didn’t look great. If your excuse for a bunch of dropped passes is, “he throws a hard ball to catch,” perhaps he’s not the godly quarterback you think he is or you have bad receivers. For much of the season he played in, he also looked mediocre. He looked other worldly against Ohio State, but that secondary was a damn house of cards.
Getting back to the question, I think the fanbase is very much in a wait and see mode. They’re frustrated. Sports is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and Penix has not done anything since Ohio State last year. Some want to blame Sheridan, and he deserves blame, but I don’t find him to be Penix’s sole problem. I think his body is literally giving out and he can’t physically do it anymore and many others are starting to see the same thing. People have heard good things about Tuttle since he came in and last year he didn’t look bad. Not great, but not bad.
In the future, I think someone said it best when they said that they fear Penix’s replacement may not be on the roster yet. I’m not so certain of that. Donovan Mccauley, a freshman out of Indianapolis, is now the 2nd stringer behind Tuttle. Mccauley has been hailed as an athlete and stood out during fall practice. I think he could be the guy, but we will have to wait and see if he sees the field this year.
Well, there you have it! We’re almost primed up for Saturday! Have you enjoyed the trophy coverage? Would this be more fun if this was a major rivalry and not just a dollar store trophy trophy game? Sound off in the comments below, and see you on Friday for the Indiana Hoosier Pregame!