BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Across three games it was fair to say that DJ Matthews, the Florida state electric transfer, could have been Indiana’s best player. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound speedster had done it all for the Hoosiers.
He was the team’s primary receiver and also landed a touchdown and an 81-yard punt return for a score that thrilled the Memorial Stadium crowd as he passed a half-dozen defensemen from Idaho.
He was so good.
But in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game at Western Kentucky, Matthews returned to field a booming 61-yard punt from John Haggerty and, with no one around him, he planted awkwardly and fell to the ground.
He tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season. You never like to see someone get hurt, but this one stung all over the Indiana establishment as Matthews not only contributed on the pitch but was a big presence in the locker room with his effervescent personality as well.
And her season is over before it really starts.
“Yeah, DJ tore his ACL, so he’s going to be out for the season. It’s a big, hard blow – for us and for him,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “It hurts for him. He had an amazing attitude, even the night it happened. We weren’t 100% sure at the time, but it was confirmed (Sunday).
“It’s a tough break, but we have to be able to fill the void and move on. Other guys will have to step up. We have others, the different way we use our guys, y There are different ways guys can step up and make plays. We have Reese Taylor in the return game for the punt, and that will come back fully on his plate.
Matthews, xxx, played three years at Florida State from 2017 to 2019 and retired from the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Because he has never worn a red shirt and last year did not count due to the pandemic, he is also eligible to replay next season.
“We expect he can have an extra year, yeah,” Allen said.
That doesn’t solve Indiana’s immediate problems moving forward without him, of course. He had developed a good relationship with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., and even had two catches on Indiana’s first touchdown before the punt. He was a reliable target out of the slot position, just like Whop Philyor was a year ago.
Finding this slot receiver is one of Penix’s strengths, and always has been. It even showed up on Saturday night, when senior Ty Fryfogle, last year’s Big Ten receiver, slipped into the lunge and made 10 catches for 98.
More importantly, he caught five balls on the third down which continued the practices.
“I give Ty Fryfogle a lot of credit. He basically played a (slot) position that he didn’t practice all week in training and he had a big game. He had a phenomenal game.” Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said on Monday. “I hate it for DJ. He was a great kid and a great addition to our team. He was really starting to flourish, contribute and become the type of player he was becoming. Our hearts are breaking for him, and we will support him and love him.He has a good attitude and we hope he will make a full recovery.
“As far as the replacement of his production and his role goes, I think it’s a group effort, and not just at the wide positions. Everyone just needs to raise their game and find a way to compensate for a part of it. the production we expected from the DJ to deliver. Jacolby Hewitt had some big takes and Cam Buckley is about to come out and make some big plays. Although we are heartbroken for DJs and hate him for him, I think everyone’s excited about some of the other guys stepping up. ”
Indiana has the luxury of a deep reception hall, and it showed Saturday night, even beyond Fryfogle. Miles Marshall had five takes and Jacolby Hewitt added four more. Cam Buckley and Javon Swinton also made catches.
Peyton Hendershot also had seven catches per 100 yards, Indiana’s first tight end to reach the milestone of the century since 1985. So, yes, there are plenty of goals going forward, starting on Saturday night against Penn State’s No. 4 at State College, Pa.
“They’ll be different guys as we figure this out,” Allen said. “If you noticed it in the game, different guys played it. Miles Marshall played the slot machine, Ty can play the slot machine. Jacolby is the guy who can play indoors and outdoors.
“Most of our receivers are pretty versatile. Coach (Grant) Heard built it that way, recruited guys who have that ability to be flexible. That’s why I think you’ll see a lot of guys in games. internal and external roles as well. I think the younger guys, for sure, we can’t wait to see these guys stand up. It’s a deep room of guys, so we just have to see how it all plays out.
Injury is part of the game, and that “next man in place” philosophy is a staple of the Indiana program. And this great reception hall is full of talent.
“It’s like anything else, it’s difficult for a DJ, but it has happened with other players in the past, like last year and the year before,” said Allen said. “It creates an opportunity for someone else. It’s part of life. You have to be able, when called upon, to stand up and seize the day.”
It stinks for Matthews, who was genuinely excited to play in Indiana after his eventful career at Florida State. He began several of his media sessions thanking the people of Indiana for giving him the chance to play here.
It was a second chance he cherished. And then he planted his foot in the ground and, just like that, his knee gave out and his season was over.
“I’ve seen ACLs all weekend at the NFL level and at our level. It’s just an unfortunate part of this game that we play. It’s a contact sport,” Allen said. “But everyone saw that one. His foot got stuck in the grass when he dropped the punt. It’s like that. It’s kind of the same with (defensive back) Chris (Keys, who tore his ACL two weeks ago in another non-contact injury). ”
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