BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Last weekend, Indiana Hoosiers receiver Ricky Jones took advantage of his first big chance this season.
Teammate Nick Westbrook has been making big plays all year.
Together, the receiving tandem has provided plenty of help — and good-hands moments — for new starting quarterback Richard Lagow to lean on.
“At the end of the day, it’s about having the confidence to go get the ball when it is in the air,” Jones said after Saturday’s 33-28 loss to Wake Forest.
Jones certainly did his part, catching eight passes for 208 yards and producing the sixth 200-yard game in school history.
It’s about time.
Last year, Jones became a key player in the Hoosiers’ potent offense, finishing with 54 receptions, 906 yards and five touchdowns.
But without Nate Sudfeld, who is playing in the NFL, or receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., who is expected to miss the rest of the season after having ankle surgery earlier this month, Jones often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time to get Lagow’s attention .
After Jones, a fifth-year senior, had only three receptions for 28 yards in Indiana’s first two games, coach Kevin Wilson pulled him aside to let him know his time would come if he just kept working.
Now, after being named the team’s offensive player of the game, perhaps Jones is back in the mix.
“Stats during the game don’t matter that much to me,” he said. “I want to win and at the end of the day, we got an ‘L,’ so it’s just something we’ve got to improve on.”
Fortunately, Lagow has been able to lean more heavily on Westbrook, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore from Lake Marry, Florida.
It’s no wonder Lagow, who has made all three of his FBS starts at Indiana since transferring from junior college, is looking Westbrook’s way.
He’s already strung together back-to-back 100-yard games, has 15 receptions and four TDs. And he has shown a knack for turning seemingly mundane plays into exciting moments — taking a short throw from Lagow for a 75-yard TD on the first play of the game last weekend after doing the same thing with a flanker screen two weeks earlier against Ball State when he scored on a 79-yard play.
“Since fall camp, it’s really one of our base plays and the chemistry just worked out,” Westbrook said, explaining the TD against Wake Forest. “It wasn’t even a look we were expecting but he (Lagow) found a way to make it work and it ended up working out.”
Jones and Westbrook are hardly the only significant players in this offense.
Wake ended Devine Redding’s streak of consecutive 100-yard games at five.
Receiver Mitchell Paige, another fifth-year senior, has consistently moved the chains. In three games, he has 15 catches for 169 yards and is nearly on pace to set career highs in both categories.
But being good and being deep may not be enough this week when the Hoosiers (2-1) host No. 17 Michigan State (2-1), the defending Big Ten champs. A year ago, in East Lansing, the Hoosiers trailed 28-26 heading into the fourth quarter before eventually getting beaten 52-26.
If the Hoosiers intend to turn that result around on their home turf, Lagow will have to be more consistent than he was Saturday when he set a school record with 496 yards passing but threw five interceptions.
One way to get that fixed is to put the ball in the hands of his playmaking receivers.
“Last week we were worried about who was going to step up at receiver (because of Cobb’s absence) and we had a 200-yard receiver, 100-yard receiver,” Wilson said. “We need Donavan Hale and those guys to keep coming.”
Notes: Wilson did not provide an update about the possibility of All-American right guard Dan Feeney (concussion) or right tackle Dimitric Camiel (back) would return this week. Both sat out against Wake Forest. … Running back-receiver Camion Patrick returned from April surgery on his injured to appear for a handful of plays last weekend. Wilson said he could be in line for more action this week — if he can prove himself on the practice field. … Indiana’s game Oct. 8 at No. 2 Ohio State will start at 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ABC.