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Indiana Football Roundtable: Taking stock in Hoosiers midway through fall camp



The staff takes a stab at some of the key questions and topics associated with the Indiana football program. (Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics)

The Indiana football program heads into the back-half of fall camp following its first scrimmage over the weekend. There have been several standouts throughout the first eight practices of camp and now, going into week three it’s critical for others to step up, including the quarterbacks.

There are numerous storylines for the program coming out of the scrimmage.

The staff takes a stab at some of the key questions and topics associated with the Hoosiers heading into second-half of fall camp and the beginning of the season.

Who is your starting QB and why?

Kyler Staley: Tayven Jackson, and it shouldn’t even be that hard of a decision for Tom Allen. Yes, Brendan Sorsby has been with the program longer and knows what to expect, but there is a reason that coach Allen went out and got Jackson after he transferred out of Tennessee. Jackson is the QB of the future for this program. In my opinion, Jackson is the more talented QB of the 2 redshirt freshmen and provides more options than Sorsby and with the offensive line still a major question heading into the season, you need a QB that can extend plays like Jackson. Yes, Jackson will make mistakes, which is ok, but you have to let Jackson run the show from day 1 and learn.

Drew Rosenberg: Tayven Jackson. While there are question marks surrounding Jackson and the run dominant offense he played in at Center Grove, he has the highest ceiling of the QBs on the roster. Jackson has good physical traits for the position, a big-time arm that will only improve with time and he can make plays with his feet. When Jackson committed to Indiana, Tom Allen spoke about his leadership and the “confidence and swagger” that he brings. This offense needs leadership and some swagger and Tayven Jackson can bring that.

Alec Lasley: Although the quarterback battle has been a struggle up to this point, I think Tayven Jackson needs to be that guy under center for Indiana on Sept. 2. Jackson, an Indiana native, comes from Tennessee through the transfer portal and arrives in Bloomington as a former high four-star prospect. The reason he’s the guy is the upside and the expectations that have come with after landing him this offseason. Indiana came into this summer needing a more athletic and dual-threat quarterback. Jackson has that potential and ability — he’s just young. Tom Allen said that Jackson brings a moxie and confidence to the offensive unit and to each throw. The Indiana offense needs someone with unwavering confidence and a swag that is hasn’t had in years. Jackson really needs to be that guy.

Who is your breakout player on offense (not including Jaylin Lucas) and why?

Kyler Staley: For me, it is a tie between both tight end’s Aaron Steinfeldt and James Bomba. With the departure of stud tight end AJ Barner (transfer to Michigan), there provides many opportunities for either Steinfeldt or Bomba to step up. It is no secret that Tom Allen likes to use his tight ends in the passing game. Both are only redshirt sophomores so there is still some growth there, but last season they showed promise and potential. One, or both, are bound to breakout for the Hoosiers this season.

Drew Rosenberg: Cam Camper. Prior to tearing his ACL, Camper was a bright spot for Indiana, catching 46 passes for 569 yards in seven games. After his injury, the Hoosiers passing game fell apart. In games Camper played in, the team averaged 271 passing yards. That number dropped to 142 yards per game when Camper did not play. While his recovery from the injury is a concern, he is on track to be ready to go for week one against Ohio State and I believe he will re-establish himself as Indiana’s number one wide receiver.

Alec Lasley: I think this will be Josh Henderson. Henderson is coming off of a season in which he had 90 carries for 398 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 24 receptions for 274 yards and four receiving touchdowns. He is the second-leading returning receiver for Indiana and leader in receiving touchdowns. His ability to impact the game as a runner or pass catcher was evident a season ago. With a young quarterback, the running back can be his best friend. Tom Allen raved about Henderson this fall and the growing confidence he has on the field and as a leader.

Which side of the ball do you think will see the biggest improvement year-to-year and why?

Kyler Staley: This is truly a tough question because you could make a strong case for either side. However, I think with Allen handing the keys to co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri to call the defense, the offense should see improvement. The result of Allen not being as hands on the defensive side will allow better game management. Plus, I strongly believe the talent is a ton better on the offensive side than what it has been the past two years. It all comes down to the offensive line for me.

Drew Rosenberg: Defense. 2022 was a rough year for Tom Allen’s defense, allowing 33.9 points per game. Adding Andre Carter from Western Michigan was one of the highlights of the offseason and he will play a big role in this new-look Indiana pass rush that has added a ton of new faces in the transfer portal. Aaron Casey returns at linebacker after leading Indiana in tackles (86) and tackles for loss (10.5) in 2022 and will have a massive role. With the mix of new and returning talent, Indiana’s defense could be in for an improved 2023.

Alec Lasley: Both sides of the ball have been dreadful to say the least over the last two seasons. But, I think the offense will see a much bigger lift than the defense this year. Year one under Walt Bell saw a lot of growing pains, but with an expected dual-threat quarterback, things should open up. The biggest area of improvement, however, was at the skill positions. Indiana went out and added playmakers to its wide receiver room and will likely have a much more versatile running back room. The offensive line is getting good reviews thanks to the addition of Bob Bostad, and even if that unit turns out to be average, that will be a far cry from what they have been the past two years.

Who is your breakout player on defense (not including Andre Carter) and why?

Kyler Staley: One of the bigger areas on Indiana’s defense that needs to show more production this season is the linebacker unit. A guy that I could see stepping up while breaking out is grad transfer Jacob Mangum-Farrar from Stanford. He comes in with the experience playing at the power five level and has the size, quickness and strength a linebacker needs to play in the Big Ten. At the linebacker position, Indiana needed improved versatility in that area and that is what Mangum-Farrar brings.

Drew Rosenberg: Jamier Johnson. During Indiana’s spring game, Johnson made his presence known, intercepting a jump ball from Tayven Jackson intended for 6-foot-3 WR E.J Williams in the end zone. Indiana’s secondary has plenty of uncertainty heading into the 2023 season after losing Tiawan Mullen and Jaylin Williams. The former four-star recruit and Texas transfer should be in line to play a big part on defense and help fill their roles. While Johnson played sparingly during his time at Texas, he is a long and athletic corner that should fit right into Tom Allen’s defense.

Alec Lasley: I do think Jacob Mangum-Farrar and Jamier Johnson will play significant roles this season as well. But, I like the addition of outside linebacker Lanell Carr and what he can bring this season. The West Virginia transfer made an immediate impact in spring practice with ‘a burst that we haven’t had at that spot,’ per Tom Allen. Carr has good size at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds and brings a quickness to the edge that Indiana needs. Depending where he lines up, he could be on the same side as Andre Carter which could open things up even more. Look for Carr to make an immediate impact the rest of fall camp and into the season.

Which transfer — on either side of the ball — will have the biggest impact this year (not including Andre Carter)?

Kyler Staley: Andre Carter aside, the transfer I am most excited to see this season is grad transfer wide receiver DeQuece Carter. Carter has just been a proven stud and playmaker at Fordham and brings maturity and explosiveness to Indiana’s offense this season. There are questions as to if he can bring that same production to the Big Ten level, but he looks as someone that wants to step up and be a ‘go to’ options for whoever the QB is for the Hoosiers.

Drew Rosenberg: Tayven Jackson. If Jackson wins the quarterback battle, he will be the most important transfer on the roster. QB play will determine the success of this team just like it has the last four seasons. The success the Hoosiers saw in 2019 (8-5) and 2020 (6-2) started at the QB position with Michael Penix and Peyton Ramsey. 2021 (2-10) and 2022 (4-8) were plagued by poor QB play and the team struggled as a result. If Jackson is able to find success, the team could take a step forward after taking big steps backwards in 2021 and 2022.

Alec Lasley: With so many transfers this offseason — 23 overall — there are numerous players who will play large roles for Indiana. The one that I think Indiana sees the biggest impact from is EJ Williams. The Clemson transfer arrives in Bloomington with a lot to prove and he said it himself. The former top-50 prospect in the 2020 recruiting class had a terrific freshman season but fell off the two years following. As a freshman, he had 24 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns. He had his best game, with five catches for 45 yards in the Sugar Bowl vs. No. 3 Ohio State. The 6-foot-3 Williams caught seven passes for 70 yards in 242 offensive snaps and 13 games in 2022. The talent is there, now it’s about consistency. With Cam Camper still a bit limited, Williams has been given a golden opportunity to showcase that skillset. 

What is Indiana’s biggest ‘swing game’ in order to help them have a shot at being bowl eligible?

Kyler Staley: That Louisville game at Lucas Oil Stadium is really interesting on paper. The Ohio State game aside, this is the first true test for the Hoosiers as both Indiana and Louisville come into the season with so many questions. If the Hoosiers were to beat Indiana State in Week 2, then go onto win the Louisville game followed by winning vs Akron at home, the Hoosiers could easily start the season at 3-1 thus already being halfway to bowl eligibility. It’ll be very early in the season, but that Louisville game is so important on so many levels. A win there against a good football program like Louisville could be the much-needed confidence booster the Hoosiers need to make that bowl push.

Drew Rosenberg: Louisville. This game will be critical to the Hoosiers’ chances of earning bowl eligibility. Playing in the Big Ten East means you have to take care of business in your non-conference schedule and for Indiana, winning all three is critical. Winning games in the Big Ten is not easy, but if Indiana sweeps their non-conference schedule, they only need three more wins for bowl eligibility. Louisville is the only Power Five school of the three and with them traveling to Lucas Oil Stadium, an Indiana victory would be crucial to earning bowl eligibility.

Alec Lasley: This is a toss-up for me because there are a few that I think can go either way and are games that can really jumpstart the season for IU or get them over the hump. Like the others, I go with Louisville. This is a week three game after Ohio State and Indiana State. The Hoosiers will have the luxury of playing a team like Ohio State in the opener to get them ready for power five opponents, so the talent level of Louisville shouldn’t be surprising to them when they step on the field. It’s a game at Lucas Oil, so still a ‘home game’ for the Hoosiers. And, it’s only game three for Jeff Brohm, with some early-season growing pains surely to be getting worked out. If Indiana can get that one under its belt, it would take some of the pressure off of matchups with Maryland, Illinois and Purdue to potentially get that critically-important sixth win. 

Prediction on Indiana’s final record

Kyler Staley: Final record of 6-6 is my prediction, which would allow Indiana to sneak into some sort of bowl game. When looking at the schedule for the Hoosiers, there are only realistically two games that are guaranteed wins (Indiana State, Akron). After that, things are real unclear. Like mentioned previously, the neutral site game vs Louisville could be a major opportunity for them to build momentum for a bowl push. As far as true road games, I really only see Indiana going on the road and beating Purdue. If Indiana wants to get to its first bowl in three seasons, it’s going to need to steal some games they aren’t expected to win. 6-6 is surprisingly doable in my opinion, but it’s going to be a grind.

Drew Rosenberg: 5-7. I think Indiana will improve from 2022, but the strength of the Big Ten will make it difficult to earn bowl eligibility. The Hoosiers are in a tough place and to win five games would be a decent season in the Big Ten East. I predict they will beat Akron, Indiana State, Rutgers and Michigan State. That fifth win could come from a few different games, but the most likely games Indiana could snag that victory would be either Louisville, Purdue, Illinois or possibly Maryland, but all four will be difficult.

Alec Lasley: I think 5-7 is very realistic for Indiana and while there is a path to six wins, it’s just hard to see Indiana winning all of those 50-50 matchups and having the ball bounce its way in that many swing games. The key games for Indiana will be Louisville, Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue in my opinion. Getting two wins is something you need to shoot for which leaves two wins against Indiana State and Akron getting you to at least four. Then, you look at a home game against Michigan State as a possibility or the likelihood that you get three wins out of those four matchups mentioned above. Five wins is definitely not a stretch, but at the end of the day, the quarterback situation will determine the outcome for Indiana and right now that’s still a question mark.

SEE ALSO: Indiana Football Notebook: Key quotes, notes and more following first fall camp scrimmage

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.