A week after one of the most disheartening losses in school history, IU showed no quit in a loss to Penn State, but unfortunately, even less offense, if that were possible. As has been the case in several of the matchups between the Hoosiers and the Nittany Lions that have been played in Indiana, IU had a chance to win in the final minute, but as has literally always been the case in the Penn State-IU series (now 15-0), it wasn't enough. Official stats here.
If nothing else, this game fit Penn State's profile, which is that of a team with a strong defense and struggling offense. Penn State held a healthy yardage advantage, 464-256, but the Nittany Lions did not exactly torch the Hoosiers. The PSU offense averaged 5.4 yards per play, punted seven times on 15 possessions, and turned the ball over three times. IU led the game for most of the first half, 3-0, but Penn State eventually found some semblance of an offense and tied the game in the second quarter, beginning a slow but steady run of 16 consecutive points. As an outsider, I am completely mystified as to why Penn State continues this quarterback carousel. Matthew McGloin, while not to be mistaken for Kerry Collins (that's the college Kerry Collins, youngsters), strikes me, both on paper and to the eyes, as a dramatically better passer than Rob Bolden, and Bolden isn't exactly an elite runner. I can't complain, because I think the upheaval is one of the reasons IU stayed in the game, but I still don't get it. While the offense didn't manage to explode, both Silas Redd (29-129) and Curtis Dukes (9-54) ran the ball fairly effectively. The PSU offense didn't score much, but did move the ball much of the time.
Still, the Nittany Lions looked like their 1994 predecessors compared to IU's offense. After leading IU's near-comeback at North Texas last week, Dusty Kiel was given the start, the first of his career, over Edward Wright-Baker. Surprisingly, at least to me, IU didn't play Wright-Baker at all. The results obviously were not great. Kiel completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (22-45) and threw for 184 yards, a TD, and an interception. On IU's only TD scoring drive, which narrowed the PSU lead to 16-10 late in the fourth quarter, Kiel was 5-8 for 52 yards, which is a nice finish, but shows that the passing offense struggled for most of the game. IU had only 72 rushing yards, with Stephen Houston leading the way with 60 yards on 18 carries. Freshman D'Angelo Roberts, who had a breakout gamer against North Texas, missed the game with an injury. All told, Penn State had 10 tackles for loss (although the IU defense wasn't too shabby with 6 of its own).
While the offense was stagnant, the play of the defense was encouraging. Certainly, as I make clear above, the Penn State offense is nothing special, but neither was North Texas's offense. Most importantly, the team looked cohesive and energetic the week after what could have been a demoralizing and dissension-fueling loss. The guys played heard and didn't give up in the face of a big deficit. Wright-Baker seemed engaged on the sideline, despite being sidelined in favor of Kiel. I'm not inclined to take moral victories in this or any season, but that game went much better than I expected.
Now, IU prepares to host Illinois in a game that we had penciled in as winnable, but against an Illini team that is 5-0, ranked, and is coming off a roller-coaster win at home over its rival, Northwestern. The last item is why I think this game might present an opportunity for IU. I expect Illinois to be comfortably favored, but they are in prime letdown condition, and it hasn't been unusual for Zook-led teams to look like it wasn't.
IU is 5 games into a new regime. It's probably way too early to draw any conclusions, good or bad, from any single game. Still, it was a relief to see that the program isn't falling apart. Now that the Hoosiers have shown some progress, it's time to see if they can find a win.