BLOOMINGTON — Indiana football coach Tom Allen said senior center Hunter Littlejohn will be a game-time decision for Saturday’s game at Maryland.
Littlejohn, who has started all six games for IU this season, suffered a lower leg injury in the second quarter during a 35-0 win over Rutgers.
“He’s doing everything he can to get back,” Allen said.
If Littlejohn can’t go, Allen said the options include playing redshirt freshman Charlie O’Connor at center or moving starting left guard Harry Crider to the center spot. Allen said O’Connor and Crider have both lined up at center during practice this week. If Crider started at center, senior Mackenzie Nworah would replace him as the starter at left guard.
“That’s another option for us as well,” Allen said,
IU’s offensive line has been forced to make adjustments throughout the season. Senior left tackle Coy Cronk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last month against Connecticut, moving true freshman Matthew Bedford into a starting role at left tackle.
But IU’s offense line has managed to hold up despite the injuries. The Hoosiers are tied with Wisconsin for the fewest sacks allowed in the Big Ten, giving up just eight in six games so far.
IU redshirt sophomore right tackle Caleb Jones, who has started all six games, said there was an initial shock when Cronk went down, but it was replaced with a feeling of responsibility.
“It was time for us to step up, each and every one of us,” Jones said. “It’s time for us to make sure we are all doing our jobs, and we can’t rely on Coy to tell us what to do, to hype us up before games. We have to take matters into our own hands and get the job done.”
MAPPING OUT MISTAKES
After jumping to a quick 21-0 lead with 8:08 left in the first quarter last week against Rutgers, Indiana went more than 23 minutes failing to score, taking the same 21-0 lead into halftime.
Allen went over the game film and mapped out the reasons for the stalled drives, then shared them with offensive players during a lengthy meeting. One of IU’s second-quarter drives ended with an interception by redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr., while another ended with a fumble by freshman running back Sampson James.
“The essence of coaching is the correction of errors. You are trying to correct the mistakes that you make, what caused the lull?” Allen said. “But obviously it starts in the mind, and the mindset is there can never be any letup. You get a little bit of a lead? There’s no letup. You have something positive happen? You can’t let up. If something negative happens, you can’t be discouraged.”
MOVING ON UP
IU freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen’s swift move up the depth chart culminated last week when he made his first career start against Rutgers.
Allen turned to a biblical proverb when asked about how Mullen has handled his increased role in IU’s defense.
“Gold and silver is tested through fire, but man is tested through the praise he receives,” Allen said. “Because often time that praise and those successes that we have goes to guys’ heads, especially when they are young and not mature enough to handle that.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Mullen has displayed his ability on the football field, with five pass breakups in IU’s first six games. Mullen is in line to make his second career start Saturday against Maryland.
“When you are playing at a high level, that should create confidence within you, but it can’t allow you to let up,” Allen said.
ELLIS GETS CARRIES
IU showed a different wrinkle in the offense when freshman wide receiver David Ellis lined up at running back in the fourth quarter against Rutgers. Ellis finished with 35 yards on seven carries.
“He looked pretty natural on Saturday carrying the ball,” IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “I was really impressed with his cutting ability in confined areas. He looks great in space. We know that. But in confined areas and in reads, considering he takes very few handoffs, we’ve worked on it a few times over the last two or three weeks, and he got his opportunity, and I thought he did a great job.”
DeBoer wouldn’t rule out more carries in the future for Ellis, who played some running back in high school.
“We’re going to continue to find ways to get him on the football field,” DeBoer said.