Indiana football: 3 things to like, 3 not to like after the loss to Cincy
Indiana had battled back before this season, rallying in each of its first 3 games to pull out victories. But a 28-point Cincinnati 2nd quarter proved to be too much to overcome Saturday for the Hoosiers, who fell 45-24 for their 1st loss of the year.
The Hoosiers, as they had in wins over Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky, again played with passion and heart in the 2nd half vs. the Bearcats, briefly making it a game by getting within 2 scores. But that was it. Talent — and big plays — won out for Cincinnati.
Following, let’s take a look at 3 things to like and 3 not to like about the Hoosiers’ performance.
3 things to like
Sticking with it
It bares repeating that Indiana is battling.
But heart matters only so much. Against lesser competition, like Indiana had faced the previous 2 weeks, physical limitations can be overcome by continuing to attack. But in Cincinnati, of the AAC, the Hoosiers found a team that plays more like a Big Ten team than Idaho or Western Kentucky. It’s big and physical at the line of scrimmage, and as much as Indiana wanted to be able to battle in the trenches, it couldn’t do so.
But after falling behind 28 points in the 2nd quarter, the Hoosiers found their 2nd-half mojo, scoring off an interception in the 3rd quarter, then getting a 47-yard touchdown run by Shaun Shivers early in the 4th to get within 2 touchdowns. But that’s all the comeback Indiana could muster.
Run D halts ‘Cats
The Hoosiers held the Bearcats to only 40 yards rushing on 30 attempts, illustrating that Indiana’s defensive front can match the physicality of the opposing offense.
Let’s not make too much of it, however. Cincinnati appeared perfectly happy to be throwing the ball around, and finished with 354 yards through the air, with QB Ben Bryant tossing 4 touchdowns. But when the Bearcats tried to establish the run in the 2nd half, when they were trying to milk clock while up multiple scores, they couldn’t do so. Indiana forced 4 consecutive 3-and-outs and forced a drive to end in a 5th straight punt after only 7 plays.
So, at least some credit there. When Cincinnati was trying to just run the game out, Indiana didn’t let them.
Camper proves himself
Wide receiver Cam Camper might have been the steal of the transfer portal.
The transfer from Trinity Community College continues to prove he belongs at the D1 Power 5 level, collecting another 10 receptions for 126 yards against the Bearcats. The Texas native now has 33 catches on the season for 418 yards and a touchdown, putting him on pace for nearly 100 receptions and more than 1,200 yards.
For a team that didn’t know what it’d have in terms of big-play perimeter threats, Camper has filled a huge void.
3 things not to like
The leaky line
The Bearcats’ attack on Indiana’s faulty offensive line might have proven to be the biggest difference on Saturday. Cincinnati brought down Connor Bazelak 5 times, each one of them helping to nuke an Indiana drive.
But it was a series in the 2nd quarter that pretty much ended the day for the Hoosiers. After the Bearcats took a 31-10 lead, Cincinnati’s Eric Phillips blitzed through the IU offensive line, sacked Bazelak and forced a fumble. It was recovered by teammate Dominique Perry for a scoop and score and within seconds, Cincy had scored twice to build an insurmountable 28-point lead. Cincinnati hit Bazelak multiple other times as well — the official statistics credited the Bearcats with an incredible 12 quarterback hurries — and generally beat up the Indiana quarterback.
Indiana had similar problems last season and didn’t do much to address its offensive line, and now, it’s paying the price. With the Big Ten restarting next week, with a trip to Nebraska, it might not be an issue that can be solved quickly.
Where’s the talent?
It’s great that Indiana’s deep roster of transfer portal players are playing well, with guys like Bazelak, Camper, Shaun Shivers and others having gigantic impacts for the Hoosiers.
But what of all the recruited high school players from Tom Allen’s last several highly regarded classes? According to 247Sports, Indiana’s composite ranking for the 2019 recruiting class was No. 37 nationally, it was in the 50s for ’20 and ’21, and was 25th in the ’22 class. But impact contributors, particularly from the 2020-22 classes, are missing right now.
Sure, in the age of the portal, it’s good to fill out your roster needs by grabbing transfers. But having a roster that is supported by them with little else from your high school recruiting gets is problematic, and Allen and Co. might be seeing that now.
Outside of Shivers’ 47-yard run for a touchdown early in the 4th quarter, Indiana’s rushing game didn’t amount to much vs. the Bearcats.
And IU must be able to run the football if it’s to have success this season, especially as the level of competition increases. Adjusting for the lost sack yardage, Indiana rushed for 117 yards on 33 carries. But take out the 47-yarder and the Hoosiers’ other 32 attempts totaled only 70 yards.
It’s not good enough. Indiana’s offensive line has to open holes for Indiana’s backs — seemingly Shivers and Josh Henderson have ability, if given space — but getting hit at the line of scrimmage, then fighting for a yard or 2 isn’t a prescription for a successful running game.