What in the world happened to Indiana football?
It’s not so much the losing for Indiana, although the losing is bad.
But it’s how exactly Indiana has fallen to here, holding a 2-8 record after being thrashed at the hands of middling Rutgers on Saturday, that is so confounding. Why have the Hoosiers — coming off a season that saw them become a player in the Big Ten East, get within an eyelash of the league championship game and play in a warm-weather bowl game — not been able to figure out the problems that have plagued them this year? Why has Indiana regressed so badly, not only from the 6-2 pandemic-shortened season of 2020, but on a week-to-week basis this season?
Is the IU team that looked completely rudderless in a 38-3 loss to the Scarlet Knights the same one that at least put up a fight weeks ago vs. Michigan State or earlier vs. Cincinnati?
All of this from an Indiana team that was ranked No 17 in the Preseason AP top-25, had its sights set on being a dark horse challenger for a Big Ten championship and had many thinking it’d take another giant step forward as a program. That it instead has fallen back to the same-old same-old tired Indiana program is the source of the Hoosiers’ frustration, to say the least. It’s the reason barely anyone showed up in Memorial Stadium to see IU-RU.
Few Big Ten teams have laid this big of an egg, considering the level of expectation compared to the actuality of the result.
The credit that Tom Allen received for reviving the Indiana program, to the point where it gave Ohio State its biggest challenge during the Big Ten season last year, was deserved. And so is the blame now. This is on him, and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, for not being able to come up with something — anything — to breathe life back into a stagnant offense.
Yes, injuries matter. Indiana’s ceiling was lowered when, yet again, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was lost for significant time due to an injury. It didn’t help matters when Jack Tuttle, as limited as he is, was sidelined as well. But Penix’s injury was 2 months ago; since then, Indiana’s offensive coaching staff — and Allen — haven’t been able to come up a game plan that helps to hide IU’s limitations.
Like, what was the plan vs. Rutgers?
Indiana started freshman Donaven McCulley, who at least drove the Hoosiers into Rutgers’ territory on his first drive (although a short field goal was missed). But then IU turned to Tuttle, for some reason, on its second drive, as the backup QB had come back from an injury that had sidelined him the previous 2 weeks. But he looked rusty, and threw picks on back-to-back possessions.
IU went back to McCulley after Tuttle was hobbled again. Well, OK. He drove Indiana to another field goal attempt, this one a make, before proving ineffective, and then the Hoosiers turned to No. 3 — or really No. 4 — Grant Gremel, who also did next-to-nothing. Allen and Co. need to put players in a position to have success; when they don’t, the team loses confidence with those in charge, and no number of rah-rah chants or “LEO” hugs is going to change that. IU needs a plan.
Some want to call Saturday’s loss to Rutgers, which has been mired in the basement of the Big Ten East since joining the conference, the “rock bottom.”
Sure, IU hopes so. After all, Indiana had scored only 3 points and had 6 turnovers. But the reality is that the Hoosiers will be an underdog to Minnesota next week, in a half-empty home stadium, and then will be a road ‘dog at revitalized rival Purdue. The reality is that IU hasn’t thrown for a touchdown since Idaho, when Penix had one despite throwing for only 68 yards in the first of the Hoosiers’ 2 victories. The reality is that despite an uptick in recruiting in recent years, the youth at skill positions hasn’t developed quickly enough. The reality is the defense is good, but not enough to carry the entire load.
There are no guarantees.
It’s not a given that Saturday was the worst. Indiana will need to forge its own path from here, but the destination is much murkier than a year ago.