James Hardy knows that his quick start might have opposing coordinators scheming. That, in turn, has the Hoosier wide receiver smiling.
The 6-7 freshman has produced back-to-back 100-yard games, including a couple of acrobatic catches, in his first two collegiate games. Even more significant, though, has been the timing of Hardy's work. Against Nicholls State he caught six balls for 74 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Against Central Michigan in the season-opener, he came up with a couple of big catches in the second quarter when the IU offense was floundering, and then drew a pass interference call in the closing minutes that squelched the Chippewas' upset bid.
That could lead some to think that figuring out a way to slow down Hardy is the answer to grounding the Hoosiers' aerial attack. Hardy, though, is quick to point out that such a strategy will come with consequences.
"They can't double team me," said Hardy. "If they double-team me, then they aren't going to cover Jahkeen Gilmore and Marcus Thigpen, and they are left open. That's the advantage we have – all of us can do it any night. You can't just focus on one of us."
The numbers bear that out. While Hardy leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (114.5/game) and ranks third in receptions (6.5/game), Gilmore isn't far behind. Thanks to a 5-catch, 107-yard, two-touchdown performance against Nicholls State, Gilmore ranks sixth in the league in receiving yards (77.5/game) is ninth in receptions (4.5/game).
While the 5-10 Thigpen doesn't rank among the league leaders, he has caught four balls this season, including one that he turned into a 74-yard touchdown against Central Michigan. Add in 6-2 redshirt freshman James Bailey – IU's fourth receiver in its "amigo" set - and Hardy is far from the only receiver who can give opposing teams headaches.
"As a group, we had the confidence before the season even started," said Hardy. "We wanted to go out and showcase our talents, especially the wide receiver corps."
The quick starts for Hardy and his fellow wide receivers might have taken some by surprise, but not quarterback Blake Powers.
"I knew (Hardy), Bailey and Thigpen were extremely talented last year as true freshmen," said Powers. "Coach (Hoeppner) has really challenged them to get in the weight room and put on some weight to get stronger and faster. They did it, and it's showing."
Hardy is the player who appears to have made the biggest strides physically. Listed at 185 pounds a year ago, Hardy is now over 200 pounds, which has enabled him to get off the line of scrimmage against cornerbacks who have tried to knock him off his route.
Hardy continues to nurse a sore Achilles that has limited his practice time, but he has shown few signs of the injury on gamedays.
"Every down and every play I want to play like it's my last opportunity," said Hardy. "I try to play hard every play because I don't know if my Achilles is going to let me play the next series or not. I just try to do the best I can and when the time comes and we need a big play, I tell Blake to look for me."
Powers has been looking, and Hardy has been responding. The same goes for the entire group, which has Coach Terry Hoeppner scheming in his own right – to get them all on the field more, and to get the ball in their hands.
"We went from having wide receivers as a question coming out of the spring, and now, Wow!" said Hoeppner. "Never give up on potential, but the receiver position, we just didn't know (heading into the season). That's now become a strength. We played amigos (four receivers) more this past week. I anticipate us trying to use that personnel group more because there are some playmakers in that group. They will only get better too, because they are young."
It's Hardly Just Hardy
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