Virginia Cavaliers 34, Indiana Hoosiers 31: comeback goes for naught.

 

It's way too early to know what to expect from the 2011 Indiana Hoosiers, let alone from the Kevin Wilson era as a whole.  But after two games, IU fans can be certain of one thing: we will never complain that Wilson isn't aggressive enough.  Wilson went for it on fourth down a couple of times against Ball State, and in last night's 34-31 loss to Virginia, Wilson made a couple of aggressive calls, neither of which worked to IU's advantage. In between those decisions, IU mounted an impressive comeback, rallying from a 23-3 deficit to take a one point and then eight point lead.  The fumble return for a touchdown by Lawrence Barnett, which gave IU a 24-23 lead, was among the most electric moments I can recall an an IU game.  The Hoosiers then took a 31-23 lead, but the Virginia offense finally pulled it together on the final drive and tied the game with a touchdown and a two point conversion.

The most noteworthy of the two aggressive calls, as I mentioned last night, was the decision, after Virginia tied the game, to try to move into field goal range rather than play for overtime.  This strikes me as a damned if you do, damned if you don't decision.  Every one of us has been in a football stadium and heard the boos rain down when a coach decides to have his team take a knee before halftime, or run the ball up the middle to settle for overtime, or simply to play for a tie, back in the pre-overtime days, rather than risk a loss.  This game is an illustration of why coaches often take the conservative approach in this situation.  There are worse things than playing in overtime.  That said, for as crucial as the decision was, I can't say that I have a strong opinion about it.  The factors weighing against trying to move the ball: only 90 seconds remained; only one timeout remained; IU has an inexperienced quarterback; we were on the 17 yard line; our offensive line has been suspect.  Factors weighing in favor of Wilson's decision: Virginia's offense looked very good on the last drive; Indiana's defense looked gassed on the last drive; Mitch Ewald is an above average kicker, so even getting to the 35 or so might have been enough; the offense is the strength of the team, and IU had the chance to win with offense without giving Virginia another chance. 

As I said, I'm really on the fence on this call.  I think going in either direction would have been defensible.  What happened was the worst case scenario.  On the other hand, I really didn't like IU's odds in overtime.  A call that I can't really defend was Wilson's decision to fake the field goal when IU was near the goal line and down 23-10.  I think that getting and sort of points from that possession was important, and I think it was pretty obvious, after Ewald conferred with Wilson, that something was up.  It may have been a good call when IU was on the three, but after a delay of game, it became a riskier play.  Ultimately, it didn't really matter. IU still was in a position to win the game despite the empty drive. 

I'm not willing to take a moral victory against Virginia, a team that went 4-8 last season and won only one ACC game, but I do think that the team showed more resiliency than we have seen in a long time.  The typical strong performance in the Lynch era seemed to involve getting a big early lead and holding on (or, more often, not).  The Bucket game last year was an exception to this.  I don't want to ovesell the significance of the game.  Ultimately, a loss is a loss, and IU had a chance to compensate for the Ball State loss by winning a game in which they were not favored. 

This was a fairly even game statistically as on the scoreboard.  Virginia eded up with a 360-319 yardage advantage, and the final drive was the margin.  Neither quarterback covered himself in glory.  A few miscellaneous notes:
  • True freshman DeAngelo Roberts, from Bloomington North, played reasonable well, gaining 48 yards on 11 rushes.
  • Redshirt freshman Matt Perez had only 50 yards on 13 carries, but scored two touchdowns, giving him three for the season.
  • Wright-Baker spread it around to three primary targets.  Duwyce Wilson had 5 catches for 60 yards in his first action of the season, plus a very nice TD catch; Kofi Hughes was 5-44; Damarlo Belcher was 4-53.
  • Greg Heban, who just over a year ago was a little-known walkon, had two interceptions.  He may be our best defensive player. 
  • White helmets!  IU came out in white helmets for the first time since 1966, according to the estimable site The Helmet Project.  I don't know if this is a one time thing, or if IU intends to adopt a home-and-away helmet scheme.  It's different, but I actually liked the look quite a bit.  I would guess that with the money expended that we will see these helmets more than once.  Unfortunately, I don't have access to any wire service photos of the game, but go to iuhoosiers.com if you didn't see the game. 
Well, 0-2 is 0-2.  It is disappointing, because both games were quite winnable.  IU almost certainly will get on the board when they play South Carolina State next week, and hopefully can make it to .500 after the trip to North Texas.  Absent wins, I'll take improvement, and we certainly had that.  Let's hope it continues and that we can continue to progress once Big Ten play begins. 
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