Indiana football at the bye week.

Sep 15, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers enter the field prior to the game against the Ball State Cardinals at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire

It's been tough to force myself to write this post. I took the last-second loss to Ball State as badly as I've ever taken an IU football loss. It wasn't that I really expected IU to contend for a bowl bid this season, but the manner of the loss was really tough. The first half was a roller coaster, with both Ball State and IU at times appearing to be close to seizing control of the game. The third quarter was a disaster, but the fourth quarter comeback was great fun. When Ball State had the ball with seven seconds remaining, no timeouts, and 10 yards short of field goal range, my thought process was this: "you know, I've been suffering with this program for two decades, and it's really not too much to ask that we hold on and win this game. But there's a good chance it won't happen." Whatever the odds are of a team that was in Ball State's position finding a way to win, what happened happened. And anyone who follows IU football could see it coming from a mile away. I suppose that should make it better, but it makes it worse. The cherry on top of the sundae is that it was the third straight loss to Ball State, a program with zero wins in its history against any other program from a major conference. Losing like this to Western Michigan or Toledo would not have been half as humiliating. Finally, I knew this loss would be bad for IU if it happened, because this was a game of high local interest, and many in the local media already have their claws out for Kevin Wilson. I really don't get it. Well, I get it. He was brusque with Bob Kravitz at Big Ten media days in 2011, so of course he's going to go after Wilson only 13 or 15 games into his tenure after carrying water for Mike Davis and Bill Lynch for years. Of course a few minor dustups that all occurred over a year ago are highly relevant. Never mind his excellent resume or the huge strides that the offense has made this season: Kevin Wilson is a Big Meanie, and delicate flowers like Kravitz have it out for him and always will. So, in that respect, a win, even a down-to-the-wire win against a MAC program, would have silenced the critics for a while. So much for that.

As disappointing as last Saturday night was, however, I really don't believe that it is time to despair about IU football. Let's take a look at some pros and cons:

The good:
  • IU ranks #12 nationally in total offense, #13 in passing offense, and #32 in rushing offense. Certainly, this is to be taken with a grain of salt. Sagarin says that IU's schedule is #187 in Division I, so near the bottom even when considering FCS schools. IU has played a FCS school, a very bad UMass team, and a solid Ball State team with a good offense but a bad defense. Still, does anyone think last year's offense could have gotten out of its own way for long enough to gain 326 yards per game in the air and 212 yards per game? I don't.
  • By necessity, IU has played three quarterbacks this season. I doubt there are many, if any, programs in FBS who can say that. Two of the quarterbacks who have played, accounting for more than half of the playing time in the first two games, had never taken an FBS snap before the UMass game, and none is more than two years removed from high school. Despite that, IU has completed 68 percent of its passes, and has 7 TD passes to 1 interception. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that a program led by a guy who was Bob Stoops's offensive coordinator for the better part of a decade suddenly has three young quarterbacks who all seem to be pretty good. I know that's not as big a deal as being mean to Jack Trudeau, but it's something, right?
  • The running game has been solid. Tre Roberson's 133 yards and 11.1 yards per carry skew the numbers, but even without Tre IU is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Last year's starter, Stephen Houston, seems to have worked his way out of the doghouse and is IU's leading rusher, but Tevin Coleman, D'Angelo Roberts, and Isaiah Roundtree all have had their moments.
  • As always seems to be the case, IU has a wealth of options in the passing game. Twelve different Hoosiers have caught at least two passes, and four have caught touchdowns.
  • As will be discussed below, the defense remains bad, but is showing some progress in a couple of areas. After sacking the QB only 17 times last year, IU has 8 QB sacks to date. And the defense, while giving up lots of yards and too many big plays, is holding opponents to 33 percent on third down.
The bad:
  • Obviously, in this category we're mostly talking about the defense. The pass coverage against Ball State's Keith Wenning, the first legitimate QB IU has faced, was beyond ugly for most of the game. As I said before the season, the defense doesn't have to carry the program, but needs to go from being a tire fire to being conventionally below average. The numbers suggest that has happened. The numbers against Ball State, IU's only respectable opponent, suggest otherwise. The defense has to do more, and hopefully the bye week will contribute to that.
  • Penalties. Penalties, penalties, penalties. IU has committed 26 penalties. Part of this is based on being overmatched on defense. Still, even the offense, which generally has looked good, has produced some drive-killers. IU has taken at least two touchdowns off the board this year with stupid, obvious, away-from-the-ball penalties that probably weren't even necessary for the TD. The defensive penalties may be unavoidable based on where the defense stands. The offense, not so much.
So, where do we go from here? As I said above, any slim hope of an against-all-odds postseason appearance probably slipped away with Steven Schott's game-winning field goal. Still, the Big Ten is comically bad, and Navy seems to have shaken off all of its Paul Johnson era excellence. Would anyone be surprised if IU found a way to upset Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Navy, maybe even Penn State or Purdue? I wouldn't be surprised if IU wins any of those games, but winning four of them would be a major surprise. Next up, the Hoosiers play Northwestern. The Wildcats broke into the Blogpoll top 25, and are the only team with three wins against teams from major conferences. I think that comes with a bit of a caveat. Boston College was 4-8/3-5 last year. Syracuse was 1-6/5-7. Vanderbilt was 2-6/6-7. And any of those games could have gone the other way. Northwestern has been very good in close games, especially against IU. But I don't think the Hoosiers need to be afraid of the Wildcats. Unfortunately, however, with MSU and OSU then coming to town, stealing one in Evanston probably is the Hoosiers' only chance to avoid a four game losing streak. Let's hope the staff can work some bye week magic.
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