IU is in no position to take any wins for granted, but yesterday's 36-34 homecoming win over Arkansas State. was not a fun game to watch Only the narrow win over Katrina-displaced Nicholls State in 2005 was a less-fulfilling win, and even then, it could be rationalized as an early season misstep by a staff in its first season. This game, on the other hand, came just before the midpoint of the season with a team that many thought could make it to a bowl game. Fortunately, IU finished its non-conference schedule with the required four wins. Even a mere 2-6 in the Big Ten would earn IU its second bowl bid in four seasons. Hopefully this game will provide lessons, a path toward improvement, etc. Still, a performance like yesterday's will earn IU a beatdown in any of its remaining games. If things don't get better, then this team is destined for failure.
Here are the stats. In the first half, the IU offense struggled to move the ball. IU's first five drives yielded three punts and two field goals. The offense redeemed itself to some degree with an 80-yard touchdown drive to finish the half, which pulled IU to within 14-12 after a missed two-point conversion, but IU was fortunate that Arkansas State turned the ball over twice in the first half, both on interceptions by Mitchell Evans. After that, the offense began firing on all cylinders, but Arkansas State stayed close. IU appeared to have the game in hand, with a nine point lead and the ball, late in the fourth quarter, but fumbles on successive possessions by Trea Burgess, playing in place of Darius Willis, allowed the Red Wolves to pull within two points at the end, but fortunately, the Hoosiers held on.
The game was not without its silver linings. IU's run defense had struggled even against overmatched nonconference opponents, so it was somewhat heartening to see IU hold ASU to 61 yards and 2.8 yards per carry. Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin completed over 75 percent of his passes, but his 6.1 yards-per-attempt average shows that in large part, this were short passes. Overall, IU had a decisive yardage advantage, 495 to 337. IU gained 298 yards in the second half, so it would appear that IU did manage to wear the Red Wolves down. Unfortunately, the two late fumbles prevented IU from putting the game away.
- Ben Chappell's completion percentage was slightly down ("only" 61 percent) but he threw for 382 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions, and 9.1 yards per attempt. Just another day at the office.
- Trea Burgess, despite the two fumbles, gained 102 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. I was surprised that IU leaned so heavily on him and didn't give Antonio Banks a look, but Burgess was solid, other than the fumbles. Did I mention the fumbles?
- The embarrassment of riches at WR was its usual self: Tandon Doss 8-103, Damarlo Belcher 6-121, Terrance Turner 5-46, each with a touchdown (Max Dedmond had the other).
- Mitchell Evans had two more interceptions. The defense wasn't great, but finding a way to force turnovers would be a great way for the D to salvage the season.
Well, there we are. Halfway through the 2010 season. Given the low quality of the non-conference opposition and the impossibility of winning at Ohio State, most of us considered the best case scenario to be 5-1 and the worst case to be 4-2. We are in the "worst case" situation, but there's no shame in that this season. The concerns, of course, are that the defense is even worse than expected, and our best performance was a close loss to Michigan, which looks increasingly fraudulent every game. I've said it many times already, but these next two games, at Illinois and at home against Northwestern, will make or break our season. If we win both, then we will be 6-2, and the Motor City Bowl becomes the floor, not the ceiling. If we go 1-1, then we are 5-3, which would guarantee that at worst, every game this season will be meaningful. If we go 0-2, however, it becomes more difficult to construct a bowl scenario. Purdue is vulnerable, but the Boilers are improving, and it's a road game. Penn State is down, but that game also is a self-inflicted road-neutral game. Winning at Wisconsin seems about as likely as winning at Ohio State. Iowa is tough, although IU has played reasonably well against the Hawkeyes over the last 12 years.
More on the Illini this week.