BLOOMINGTON — Indiana has slowly worked the tight end into the offense in the 2018 season.
Peyton Hendershot is the leading tight end in receptions with nine. He caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Ramsey last Saturday in a 49-26 loss to No. 3 Ohio State.
Two other IU tight ends — Matt Bjorsen and Austin Dorris — have combined to catch seven more passes.
Sixteen tight end receptions in six games may be a little more than usual at Indiana. Ramsey simply has more of his top targets who are wide receivers or running backs. IU’s top eight receivers this season play a position other than tight end.
But now comes an Iowa team to Memorial Stadium for homecoming that has completely flipped that offensive script.
The top two receivers for the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) are tight ends. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant have combined for 37 catches, nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns.
Stopping them — or at least slowing them down — will be an important task for the IU defense as the Hoosiers (4-2, 1-2) play host to Iowa at 12:04 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
Indiana coach Tom Allen knows his defense will be tested with the Iowa tight ends.
“It is unique because most teams don't have their top two receivers in receptions as tight ends,’’ Allen said. “That's deceiving to say that it is not an explosive passing game because it is. They are very good athletes, versatile enough to flex them out and play them as wide receivers and big enough to be in the box and block as a tight end.’’
Fant has 19 receptions to lead Iowa and adds 196 yards and five touchdowns. Hockenson has 18 catches for 287 yards and one score.
The pair have become the favorite targets for quarterback Nate Stanley, who has thrown for 1,153 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
But seeing a different look in the receiving game will make it tough on Allen’s defense.
“That creates challenges,’’ Allen said. “It's matching up with safeties and linebackers, but they run like receivers, a couple of them. That's why they are effective and have given a lot of people trouble. We just have to have great eye discipline as we read our run-pass rules, our fits off of that.’’
Not surprisingly, Allen admitted Iowa is far from just a passing attack. He said the top priority as always for the Hoosiers will be to stop the run.
“You have to stop the run,’’ Allen said. “If you don't, they will wear you out with that all day and make it difficult. It's about doing that first and controlling them in the passing game. So we have to make sure we do a great job with our discipline.’’
Indiana’s hope will be to establish the running game itself, more to the tune of how the Hoosiers were able to do it in the early going when freshman Stevie Scott was running wild.
After back-to-back 100-yard rushing games the first few weeks, Scott has slowed down a little. He had 64 yards last week at Ohio State and 58 the week before against Rutgers. He is still one of the top rushers in the Big Ten with 528 yards and four touchdowns.
One thing Scott’s production has done is to help Indiana forget the loss of sophomore Morgan Ellison, who was suspended for undisclosed reasons prior to the start of the season and has missed the first six games. Ellison ran for more than 700 yards as a true freshman last season.
Thursday, the reason for his suspension was revealed. The Indianapolis Star reported Ellison allegedly assaulted a fellow IU student while she slept and then used force to continue the assault when she woke up.
The story also reported Ellison denied using force and said all of the sexual activities that occurred were consensual.
Still, the university’s sexual misconduct hearing panel determined Ellison should be suspended for 2½ years. The ruling also requires Ellison to undergo counseling, and it specified he is not allowed on any IU campus during his suspension. He also cannot have any contact with the victim.
Ellison can appeal the suspension, but it’s not clear if he did before a Thursday deadline. According to several reports, he was still enrolled in classes at IU as of Thursday morning.