Indiana football: 10 bold predictions for November
Indiana enters November trying to salvage something from what looks like a lost season.
With a 3-5 overall record, including a 1-4 mark in the Big Ten — and a season-opening victory against Illinois that looks more and more like an outlier — Indiana is likely to miss the postseason for a 2nd consecutive year unless it can somehow score 3 upset victories in the last 4 games.
But that won’t happen. Instead, let’s take a look at 10 other bold predictions for November:
The heat turns up
The seat might only be warm right now for 6th-year coach Tom Allen, but it’s going to be hot once the end of the season arrives. It would be hard not to question Allen’s status if Indiana continues it’s non-September losing streak, which is up to 12 games. It’ll reach 14 in the next couple weeks, when Indiana hosts Penn State then travels to Ohio State. The danger is that it could hit 16 at the end of the year if IU can’t find a way to beat Michigan State in East Lansing or win against Purdue in Bloomington.
Few would have predicted Allen would be in trouble now, after having Indiana near the top of the Big Ten during the shortened season in 2020, but here we are. He was unable to capitalize on the momentum, seeing the ’21 season be destroyed by inconsistency and injury and now the ’22 year be marred by mistakes and close losses.
It’s likely Allen will get another season to try to turn Indiana back around. The buyout has much to do with that; it’s approximately $25.5 million if IU fires him without cause before Dec. 1. It’d drop to $20.8 million the next day (and anytime before Dec. 1, 2023). But more than that, Allen probably deserves one more shot to right the ship, considering the energy he brought to the program before the boat sank the past 2 years.
It’ll help Allen that the Hoosiers will get a win in November.
It’s unlikely that it’ll come vs. Penn State or Ohio State, when IU will be multi-touchdown underdogs. The Hoosiers are likely to be ‘dogs the next 2 weeks, as well, although perhaps by more manageable margins. The best case for IU is the game at Michigan State, which will probably be favored by 7-10 points in Spartan Stadium on Nov. 19. The Spartans have an identical record to Indiana, at 3-5, 1-4, and will slip up vs. Indiana after beating Rutgers at home the week before.
Indiana can’t win football games, at least not consistently, if it’s dead last in the Big Ten in rushing.
But there it is. The Hoosiers are averaging 80.4 yards per game on the ground, more than a dozen yards less than the Big Ten’s 13th-ranked team in Iowa. And IU is averaging only 2.7 yards per rush, also last in the Big Ten.
Indiana devoted a lot to trying to fix its running game after last season, making a complete overhaul of its backfield by bringing in transfers Shaun Shivers (Auburn) and Josh Henderson (North Carolina). But while the duo has accumulated nearly 650 yards on the ground, it hasn’t sparked the offense. A shaky offensive line, both in run blocking and pass protection (it has given up more than 200 yards in sacks), has only added to the misery.
Speaking of last …
Indiana’s offensive line has given up 22 sacks this season, which is tied for 12th in the Big Ten (with Nebraska) and 2 better than what Iowa has allowed.
But considering Indiana’s remaining opponents — Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue — all rank in the top 8 in the Big Ten in sacks generated by their defenses, the Hoosiers will finish the season in last place in sacks allowed, likely having given up more than 30.
The O-line has been a season-long problem, even though IU has a veteran group up front. But Allen fired line coach Darren Hiller midseason, replacing him with veteran head coach Rod Carey. Perhaps Indiana has seen a slight uptick in performance since then, but not nearly enough.
A quarterback change isn’t the answer, but Indiana will make one at some point in November.
Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak has been OK this season; it’s hard to pin the losses singularly on his performances. The veteran QB has the Big Ten’s 3rd-most yards this season, at 2,099, behind only Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, yet Bazelak’s efficiency rating is 2nd-to-last in the B1G, ahead of only Iowa’s Spencer Petras.
Bazelak is completely only 55 percent of his attempts and has 12 touchdowns vs. 9 interceptions.
Warranted or not, Allen will go back to Jack Tuttle at least once during the last 4 games, creating an odd situation of putting in a player, albeit a captain, who is currently in the transfer portal, intending to move on for a graduate year elsewhere. And Tuttle won’t be the answer, but it is a change Allen can make.
No. 3 quarterback Dexter Williams II enjoyed a solid training camp, at least according to coaches who relayed that to media. (The practices were closed to media and the public.)
But that hasn’t translated to Williams seeing the field as a change-of-pace option, one who could give the Hoosiers’ ground attack a bit of a boost. After the bye, Indiana should put Williams in more frequently, rotating him with Bazelak in an effort to give the offense another dimension.
Allen has probably been hesitant to throw in a young QB after what happened to Donaven McCulley last season, when the true freshman was thrown in way, way too early and had his growth likely stunted because of it. McCulley is now a wide receiver.
One of Indiana’s problems this season has been its inefficiency in taking advantage of its scoring opportunities.
The Hoosiers have scored touchdowns on only half of their trips in the red zone (15 of 30), ranking 111th in the country. The lack of a consistent running game doesn’t help, a problem that is exacerbated as the field gets shorter.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, the problem isn’t going away in the season’s last month. IU will continue to have red zone issues, as the touchdown ratio will hover around 50 percent throughout the month of November.
More coaching changes
Whether it’s coaches leaving on their own or Allen deciding for them, the Hoosiers are likely to see more shifts in the staff this offseason.
They won’t come in November, but could come shortly after.
It’s an issue for Allen, who would like to build some continuity. Both Indiana’s offense and defense are currently under their 3rd coordinators in 3 seasons. But it’s unlikely the staff will stay the same headed to 2023.
Jones will make big return
Indiana’s defense hasn’t been helped by losing its best player, captain and emotional leader.
Senior linebacker Cam Jones has been out since the Michigan loss on Oct. 8 with a foot injury. Then, it was thought that Jones, who came back to Indiana hoping for a big season to improve his NFL Draft stock, would be out multiple weeks. Could that mean a return soon?
Indiana would certainly love to have him. The Memphis native is still Indiana’s 2nd-leading tackler even though he hasn’t played in 3 games, with 54, including 3 for loss and a sack. He also has a forced and recovered fumble.
Lone bright spot?
Of all the transfers Allen brought in during the offseason, receiver Cam Camper might have been the least ballyhooed, yet the Trinity C.C. newcomer has made the biggest impact.
Camper has proven that he belongs on the Big Ten stage, as he’s caught 46 passes in 7 games for 569 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’ll finish with 900 receiving yards this season — had he not missed a week with injury, he might have been able to get to 1,000 — to complete a great year in his debut in Bloomington.