This game felt lost in the first quarter.
The IU defense, matching its strong start at Illinois last week, forced the Wildcat defense to punt on its first three possessions, but the Hoosiers managed only three points themselves during that stretch. The game wasn't really over at that point--IU briefly took the lead just before halftime (although a late NU drive gave the Wildcats a game-tying field goal at the gun) and pulled to within 3 in the final minute of the game, but ultimately, that failure to capitalize on NU's early struggles was ominous, and ultimately may well have cost IU the game. Chappell went through a horrible 1-10 streak early in the game, and while he rebounded, Chappell's stock has plunged since the Michigan game.
Of all of the disappointments in this game, the performance of the offense throughout was disappointing. On its first drive, the offense again bogged down in the red zone. IU missed a makeable field goal and, when the Hoosiers pulled within 3 points with less than a minute remaining, the execution on the onside kick was atrocious. The kick went less than ten yards before bouncing out of bounds and ensured the Northwestern victory.
That's not to excuse the defense, of course. When they were able to put NU in third and long on what eventually ended up as scoring drives, they allowed NU to capitalize. Once, IU blitzed. Once, the didn't. It didn't matter. Even a green quarterback coming off the bench for a third down play (in place of injured Dan Persa) was too much for the IU defense in crunch time. Still, the defense allowed 20 points, 380 yards, and 5.3 yards per play. That should have been good enough, at home, considering IU's defense.
Chappell has struggled under pressure in the last couple of weeks, and perhaps the expectations thrust on him because of his early season performances were unfair. He is an experienced, competent quarterback who put up incredible numbers against MAC, Sun Belt, I-AA, and Michigan-level defenses, but against any competent Big Ten competition, he has looked entirely average. Perhaps that's what he is. There's nothing wrong with it. But the early season expectations that we would see a special season from Chappell seem to be gone.
- Damarlo Belcher continued his excellent junior season with 11 catches for 87 yards. He now leads the team with 58 receptions.
Trea Burgess was decent, running 8 times for 37 yards, but IU never really managed to establish the run.
- Ted Bolser didn't catch a touchdown, but did manage four receptions.
- Darius Johnson had 11 tackles and a sack. He is emerging as one of the few bright spots on defense.
- Walk-on Greg Heban, starting his first game, broke up three passes. Matt Ernest broke up two.
Before the season, my basic assessment was that 7 or more wins would be good, 5 or fewer wins would be bad, and 6 would be a mixed bag--improvement and likely a bowl bid, but not significant progress considering the schedule. Now, 6 wins has become the best case scenario, and it is very unlikely. Iowa, IU's Senior Day opponent for next week, brutalized previously undefeated Michigan State yesterday. IU has defeated Wisconsin only twice in the last 17 years. Penn State isn't very good but has shown that it can score points against bad defenses. Purdue is horrible, but I'm not sure it matters, given the way IU has played at Ross-Ade from 1998 to present. In short, even finding a way to 6-6, for the honor of playing a MAC team in Detroit, requires a miracle. That's the state of our program on the last day of October. What a disappointment.