Indiana is a good football team. Just not good enough. We're at a strange place in the program's build at the moment where we're good enough to be in big games, but not good enough to win them with any consistency. It almost makes it harder to watch than when you have no chance. Almost. You can see that Indiana is on the move, but they still have a lot of work to do if they want to be in the upper echelon of the conference. Saturday's game against Michigan proved to be exhibit B in why Indiana is good, but not good enough.
I'm not going to get deep into the numbers and who did what on this game. Just know that Tre Roberson rekindled a quarterback controversy, Nate Sudfeld looks like his confidence is shaken, the receiving corps is still awesome, and Michigan set a ton of either program records or conference records on offense Saturday afternoon. Instead of going through all of the ups and downs of the statistics, just be aware that Indiana was in a position to win this game until two costly turnovers on back to back drives in the fourth quarter turned a very close game that could go either way into a 16 point loss. Instead, I want to talk about what this team is and where it needs to go.
First of all, if you didn't believe that this offense is legitimate before Saturday, if you have any doubts left you should probably quit watching football. You're just not going to fully comprehend the game. Kevin Wilson and company have this offense in a place that Indiana has never seen. Certainly we've had some great offenses in the past. Antwaan Randle El and Ben Chappell are two guys that stick out to me that led some potent offenses. But none in my memory have been able to face quality resistance and still hang crooked numbers with regularity.
Saturday at Michigan, Tre Roberson proved that Indiana has two very legitimate sophomore quarterbacks that can lead this offense. Despite Sudfeld getting the start and being shaky most of the game, he still had flashes of greatness. Roberson however was much more consistent and very good throughout. Couple those two with a very good sophomore running back in Tevin Coleman and young offensive line and Indiana is set on offense for a couple years still. I doubt many need convincing that the Hoosiers are going to be potent going forward. The defense, however, is still very much a work in progress.
A lot of people in an unjustifiably fickle fan base are screaming from the heavens to fire Doug Mallory after this weekend's defensive performance. Again, we're not going over the numbers, they were bad. But, I'm finding it hard to blame the coordinators and coaches for that one. If you were watching the game you would have noticed how over and over again Indiana had a play shutdown for little to no gain only for the skill player to shake a tackle and grab another 8 yards out of the play. That isn't Doug Mallory's fault.
I need to go back and watch the game film to be certain, but Mallory called a pretty good defensive game this weekend. Players were in place to make plays 80% of the time. Unfortunately very few times did the team on the field convert on those opportunities. Some of the credit goes to Michigan. Jeremy Gallon had a field day despite Tim Bennett blanketing him all day. The kid made at least 3 catches where Bennett was in great coverage with a hand in the mix and Gallon just out muscled him. That's what receivers should do and he did.
Some of the blame goes to the players on the field, who when given the opportunity to make a play would drop their heads and go bulldozing in. Most often they would whiff. Another chunk of blame should fall on the coaches, but not the coordinators necessarily. The positional coaches should be the ones making sure that form and the sure tackle come first. The final chunk of blame should go to the youth of the squad. They're still young and figuring out how the big boys play football. This isn't high school anymore where on average you're the best player on the field at any given time. These players have to play more within themselves instead of trying to get big hits all the time.
So yes, from a defensive standpoint, Indiana was/is incredibly frustrating to watch. They're still quite bad. But they're still better than they were the year before. That's all you can ask in a program building from historically bad to good. The offense is well ahead of the defense, but help should continue to come. Until then we're just going to have to hope for several good days in between the bad ones. Indiana is currently just good enough to break your hearts. Especially against the big guys.
I'd encourage you all to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. The defense needs at least one more year to fight towards average and replacing a coordinator and in the process implementing an entirely new system wouldn't help that. Right now we just want to see Indiana win the games they should and keep the ones they shouldn't close. Or in basketball terms, we're currently the 2011 Hoosiers. Enjoy the ride, it will continue to be a roller coaster.