Indiana football: The wheels have come off in Bloomington
There is a foreboding feeling hovering over Bloomington right now.
As Indiana tries to dig its program out of the doldrums in the Big Ten East, the hole instead keeps getting deeper.
Saturday, a little bit of everything led to the disastrous 45-14 home loss to Penn State, a setback that looks worse considering IU had 2 weeks to prepare. The Hoosiers’ October/November losing streak hit 13 consecutive games, but this one stung a little more. At least the last couple Ls had been 1-possession margins, and arguably the past 4 were competitive for at least a half.
But Penn State rocked IU with a 17-point 2nd quarter, then ran away in the 2nd half. It’d be easy to say — or hope — that Saturday was the bottom, but of course a trip to Ohio State looms Saturday. And it probably doesn’t help that the Buckeyes will be itching for a CFP Committee attention-getting blowout after a shaky win at Northwestern.
The Hoosiers’ misery is likely to continue. Maybe surging Michigan State or reeling Purdue will provide some level of reprieve in the last 2 weeks, but even those seem like uphill battles. As harsh as it sounds — and it sounds harsh — IU might struggle to win an intra-squad game right now.
Saturday’s game was eerily reminiscent of the last month of last season, when Indiana rolled out quarterback after quarterback as injuries and losses piled up.
Against Penn State, starter Connor Bazelak was out with an undisclosed injury (although it was possible he was going to be replaced as QB1 anyway), then backup Jack Tuttle was hurt during the game. It left the Hoosiers to play sophomore Dexter Williams II and true freshman Brendan Sorsby, who combined for 7-of-17 passing for 49 yards and 3 interceptions. Like last season, when Donaven McCulley was starting games and shouldn’t have been — it was a hindrance to his development as a quarterback and precipitated his move to wide receiver — coach Tom Allen has found himself in a situation where he’s putting QBs on the field before they’re ready.
Allen did so then with an offensive line that couldn’t protect his quarterback, nor help in the running game. And it’s a pattern repeating itself now. Penn State had a staggering 16 tackles for loss, including 6 sacks.
“Bottom line is however much time you have (to prepare), you’ve got to execute,” Allen said. “It’s really difficult up front, not giving our running backs seams to run through and not giving our quarterbacks time to throw. That, to me, really is the bottom line. We have to continue to work to get better there, because it’s not good enough, because it’s killing us right now. I don’t care who the quarterback is. I don’t care who the running back is.”
Still, Allen’s QB decisions were perplexing. In training camp, Allen and his staff had touted the performance of Williams, to the point where it felt reasonable to think the athletic backup might spell Bazelak at times to give the Hoosiers a change-of-pace Wildcat-like option. But after Tuttle was sacked and injured late in the 1st half, Sorsby was the next man up (and he then was promptly sacked on his 1st snap). Williams didn’t see the field ’til midway through the 3rd quarter, well after the game was decided.
The loss exposed way more than just quarterback issues, though.
Penn State, regularly nuking IU’s offensive line, held the Hoosiers to 196 yards, as they averaged only 3.1 yards per play and converted only 4-of-15 3rd downs. IU also went a staggering 8 straight possessions without a 1st down. The defense was equally atrocious, giving up 483 yards and allowing PSU to score 6 touchdowns on 7 red-zone trips. The Hoosiers had the 3 turnovers, 5 penalties and blah, blah, blah. It was all bad.
As the losses stack up, so do the questions, and Allen hasn’t yet shown he has the answers.