BLOOMINGTON – Indiana football is off to a historic start in its quest to win its first Big Ten title since 1968.
But the No. 10 Hoosiers (3-0) have another obstacle to contend with as the season continues – the COVID-19 virus.
A record 6,642 new cases of the virus were recorded Thursday in Indiana, while in Monroe County — which includes Bloomington — more than 100 cases in a day were reported for the first time since Sept. 14.
Indiana coach Tom Allen reminded players to stay vigilant this week in preparation for its second road trip of the season at Michigan State on Saturday (noon, ABC). The Hoosiers will fly to East Lansing, Michigan, for the game and will have travel protocols in place that were effective in their first road trip at Rutgers.
“We’re on high alert this week,” Allen said. “I made another huge emphasis to our players in our last team meetings about masks and social distancing and taking care of themselves, continue to wash their hands because it’s really easy to kind of get lulled into some of these things for a while and you get kind of comfortable and complacent.”
For the third time this season, a Big Ten game was canceled when this week’s Maryland-Ohio State game was wiped out due to a COVID outbreak within the Maryland program. Eight Maryland players tested positive for the virus this week. In addition, four SEC games were postponed this week due to outbreaks involving various teams.
“What’s happened this week is another great reminder that this season is very fragile,” Allen said. “We know that. We have no idea what the future holds. We can’t take anything for granted in our preparation and the mitigation of risk, trying to be able to keep our guys safe, keep our staff safe and just continue to challenge our coaches to do a great job, their families are doing a great job, who they are around after the games. It takes discipline. It takes sacrifice.”
KATIC, ELLIS PROGRESSING
Allen said starting left guard Mike Katic and sophomore running back/kick returner David Ellis are both progressing from injury and both will be game-time decisions for Michigan State.
Ellis has missed IU’s first three games with a lower leg injury, while Katic was out for the Michigan game after starting IU’s first two games. Earlier in the week, IU offensive line coach Darren Hiller said he was looking forward to having Katic back for the Michigan State game.
Former Florida State wide receiver D.J. Matthews announced on his Twitter account he’s transferring to Indiana next season. As a grad transfer, the speedy, 5-foot-10, 154-pound Matthews would be eligible to play for the Hoosiers immediately.
A four-star recruit out of Jacksonville, Florida, Matthews had 36 catches for 355 yards and three TDs in 2019. He was also a dynamic punt returner at FSU, returning a punt for a TD against Miami in 2018. His 582 punt-return yards rank 10th in FSU history.
Sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was named the Manning Award quarterback of the week after throwing for a career-high 342 yards and three TDS in IU’s 38-21 win over Michigan.
Penix completed 30 of 50 passes in the Michigan win, with no interceptions. He recorded the second-highest passing yards by an IU quarterback against Michigan in school history.
Junior Reese Taylor is continuing to excel at cornerback, with 18 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and one pass breakup. A former standout quarterback and 2017 Indiana Mr. Football from Ben Davis, Taylor made the position switch from offense and defense last season. Taylor admitted he misses playing offense but said the move to cornerback was made willingly.
“I knew Mike (Penix) was here,” Taylor said. “I’m not backing down from Mike, but I knew he was a good quarterback, and I knew he could take us far. I knew he’s a great player who could really take this team to the next level, and I knew I could help the defense out a lot.
“I think me at corner can really make me be a better team leader, and I feel like at the next level I could play corner.”
Allen said he believed Taylor had a chance to develop into an elite Big Ten corner when he made the position switch, based on his quickness and ability to play in space.
“His change of direction — we saw his quickness was very elite and very special,” Allen said. “Even to this day, he’s our quickest guy, in terms of changing direction, on the entire team.”