Indiana football: 4 (probably-not-so-quick) fixes for the Hoosiers
Indiana is looking for quick answers, having lost 2 straight games after what had appeared — at least in terms of wins — to be a solid start to the season.
And now undefeated Michigan, which started the week as a 22.5-point favorite, comes to Bloomington.
Answers, unfortunately for the Hoosiers, might not come as soon as desired. But let’s take a look at 5 fixes, whether they come now or later, that will help to cure what ails IU:
Indiana’s offensive woes start up front.
The Hoosiers are experiencing major issues in their offensive line, despite having what is largely a veteran group. In the loss to Nebraska on Saturday, quarterback Connor Bazelak was sacked 3 times, but the issues run deeper than that. The Cornhuskers hurried him on 6 other occasions and they accumulated 6 tackles for loss, many of which nuked Hoosiers’ drives.
It’s not been a one-game problem. In 5 games this season, Indiana has been tackled for a loss 34 times, ranking it last in the Big Ten and 110th (of 131) in the country.
Despite Tom Allen saying that he would likely try to change up line personnel, it largely stayed the same vs. the Cornhuskers, with Luke Haggard at left tackle, Tim Weaver at right guard and Parker Hanna (who is in for the injured Matthew Bedford) at right tackle. The Hoosiers did make a change at left guard and at center. Zach Carpenter, who had missed the last couple games, was back in the lineup but at guard, with Mike Katic shifting to center. Carpenter has been dealing with a hand injury that had healed well enough to play, but not snap.
And now the Wolverines come to town. Michigan has 15 sacks in 5 games this season, the 2nd-best rate in the Big Ten (only trailing Illinois by 1 sack) and tied for 16th in the country.
Indiana is in the middle of the pack in 3rd-down conversions nationally, ranking 57th at about 42 percent.
The danger for the Hoosiers is that they are trending in the wrong direction. Indiana converted only 2-of-15 3rd downs against Nebraska, largely because the “to-go” average was more than 7 yards. The Cornhuskers’ TFL were only part of the issue; another being a half-dozen offensive penalties, including a couple frustrating delays of game.
The Hoosiers can’t fall behind the sticks, especially against better competition — does Nebraska count as better competition? — because they’re not offensively equipped to make up the lost yardage.
Indiana has only a few significant injuries, but boy are they huge ones.
The Hoosiers won’t get Bedford, arguably their best lineman, back this season, as he’s out with a knee injury. But they better hope that wide receivers Cam Camper and DJ Matthews can return soon. It seems they might. Camper was out vs. Nebraska because of an undisclosed (non-Covid) illness, while Matthews tried to warm up in Lincoln but couldn’t go.
Without them, the Hoosiers were sapped of their big-play potential, making it even more imperative that they be able to stay on schedule offensively (without the TFLs and penalties) and run the football. They did neither. IU rushed for only 67 yards against the Cornhuskers, which even after the game still is only 120th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 200 yards per game.
Michigan’s defense ranks 14th in rushing yards given up, allowing only 94 per game.
Indiana needs to keep an eye on cornerback Jaylin Williams, as well. The All-Big Ten cornerback injured a shoulder in the 1st half vs. Nebraska, then tried to go in the 2nd but had to shut it down.
The Hoosiers need a higher success rate in the red zone.
First, they could stand to get there more frequently — 20 trips ranks 55th in the country — but it’s the conversion rate that is the real problem. IU has scored on 15 of the 20 trips, a percentage that ranks 103th in the country. And only 10 of the 15 scores have been touchdowns, which is 107th.
The Hoosiers’ offense put up only 17 points against Nebraska, getting another 7 on defense.