Before the season started, one glance at IU’s schedule demonstrated that the first two games would be pivotal for setting the tone of the season. FIU and Ball State were never expected to be title contenders even within their own conferences, but each presented their own specific challenges that Indiana was able to navigate. FIU was an unusual Thursday night road opener for Indiana, whereas Ball State was an in-state opponent that had won its last three against the Hoosiers. Despite this, the Hoosiers now sit at 2-0, something not every B1G team can claim. Entering a bye week, Hoosier fans can feel good about where Indiana stands at this point, while also knowing that the team still has work to do.
Indiana was trailing as they entered the fourth quarter against FIU without scoring a single touchdown on offense. Then, the Hoosiers found their groove, scoring the final 22 points of the game to win by a comfortable three-touchdown margin. This began an impressive run in which, over the last frame of the FIU game and the first three of the Ball State game, Indiana outscored its opponents 52-3.
From the fourth quarter against FIU through the opening three quarters against Ball State, IU outscored opponents 52-3— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) September 10, 2016
However, during the other four quarters in which IU has played football, they’ve been outscored 30-12, and these came against two of the easiest teams on the schedule. Thus, there’s still room to improve.
Let’s start with the positives though. Obviously, IU’s defense has shown promising signs of improvement. They have forces three turnovers in both games, come up with key stops, and kept the opponents out of the end zone for the most part, giving up only one offensive touchdown per game. Tom Allen has helped to give this defense an attitude, and already in both games, IU has let up fewer points than they did in any game all of last season. True freshman Marcelino Ball is helping to shore up what was a very questionable secondary last year, and Tegray Scales forced a key fumble as Ball State was driving late in the first quarter.
On offense, Richard Lagow has had a quietly productive start to his Indiana tenure at QB. Lagow went 17-for-27 for 266 yards and three TDs yesterday, and still has yet to throw a pick. Along with his rushing TD in the FIU game, he’s been involved in every offensive touchdown for the Hoosiers thus far. In addition, Devine Redding notched his fifth-straight 100-yard rushing game since the end of last season (IU is 4-1 in that span). And Nick Westbrook’s big day receiving demonstrated that the Hoosiers have great depth at the position. Griffin Oakes also hit three Good Kicks yesterday, shaking off any jitters he may have had in week 1.
However, not all is perfect after the first two games, and while the bye this year comes very early in IU’s schedule, it does give them time to work some issues out as they approach playing 10 straight Power 5 opponents. First, the offense does need to finish drives, or at least get Oakes into field goal range. Both games featured several possessions on offense in which Lagow, Redding, and company were able to move the chains, but couldn’t get past about the opponent’s 40.
Alex discussed this more in-depth yesterday, but the punting unit also could use some work. The blocked punt returned for a TD was a result of bad protection, and the Hoosiers are lucky that Ball State coach Mike Neu elected to kick an extra point and keep it a three-score game, instead of going for two there to only be down 16.
In addition, the offense stalling in the fourth quarter was much too reminiscent of the Rutger game, and while I appreciate that Kevin WIlson was trying to bleed the clock to finish the game off, I felt they could have kept going with some of the bubble screens that were working in the first half in order to get first downs. The third down conversion rate has to improve as well, as Indiana was only 2-for-13 on such conversions.
Finally, the injuries are already a concern for Indiana. Simmie Cobbs, who was suspended for the first game, suffered an ankle injury at the beginning of yesterday’s game and may need surgery. He’ll likely need to use a redshirt this season. Dan Feeney, the preseason All-American Hoosier right guard, suffered a concussion during the Ball State game, and the offense missed his presence as they tried to close the game out on the ground in the second half. While IU’s O-line has been a strength under Wilson, the unit would still take a huge hit were Feeney to sit out a long period of time.
Indiana’s next opponent, Wake Forest, had a bit of a surprising victory in Durham against Duke yesterday, so this game may be a bit more challenging than IU fans were expecting. The Hoosiers will now have two weeks to prepare for the Demon Deacons.