Most Things Are Fine isn’t here to tell you not to be mad about a sports loss. That would be stupid. Fandom is fandom, and losing sucks. Advocating otherwise would be foolish.
But if you’re more interested in the true quality of this Indiana football team and how it projects through the balance of the 2016 season, the loss to Wake Forest on Saturday should change very little about how you feel about Richard Lagow, Kevin Wilson, and this particular Indiana football team.
The curious paradox of Indiana football, and most of the media coverage and punditry surrounding it, is that most looks at the team are cursory. The national coverage and conference-wide coverage often just derives from a quick glance at a box score, and such is why you shouldn’t bother with Power Rankings or Bowl Projections from much of anyone today. Even the voices you respect most didn’t watch every second of Indiana-Wake Forest, and they certainly don’t care enough about the outcome to deeply delve into the advanced numbers and tape regarding why it happened. Indiana gave up 33 to a bad Wake Forest offense! Richard Lagow threw five picks! This is what you’ll hear echoing across the web today, but it would be an unrealistic expectation for them to do anything else. Les Miles just got fired. There are Alabamas and Ohio States and Notre Dames Losing To Dukes. This is true for most local voices, too. Indiana football doesn’t dominate the marketplace. Rage and hot takes and speculation sell better than context and nuance -- and they’re also easier to promulgate.
But here’s the reality: Indiana’s loss at Wake Forest wasn’t representative of the quality of the team, but rather a cavalcade of stupid and bad luck. That shouldn’t make you less upset about the result -- bowl games won’t extend a bid to Indiana with 5 wins and an unlucky loss. But it should alter your online takes about this team, and it should make you feel even better Saturday night’s matchup against Michigan State.
My colleague and football savant and person that is likely better than you at math, Bill Connelly, does an advanced stats analysis of every single college football game during every season — and keeps an advanced stats profile of every team in America. It is amazing. You can find it here. From his breakdown of Saturday’s game, here’s the major takeaways.
- Indiana had a 90% win expectancy for the game.
- The adjusted point margin was +11 in favor of Indiana.
- The adjusted turnover margin should have been +1.1 in favor of Wake — not +5.
- Of Wake’s 33 points scored, 19.5 could be chalked up to turnover luck.
This is the kind of math-defying, mind-boggling shit that earned Indiana the #CHAOSTEAM moniker under Kevin Wilson in the first place. And while not all advanced stats are perfect, the game tape (which we’ll dive more into later in the week) validates them in this situation. Of Lagow’s five interceptions, only one -- the last — was totally egregious. The first was overcooked a touch, but still bounced off the hands of an Indiana receiver in the Wake endzone -- and into Jessie Bates’. The second, a plenty catchable ball, bounced off the hands of an Indiana reciever, into the hands of Bates again, and was returned for a touchdown. Lagow got blindsided on his third right as he threw, and the fourth was tipped at the line.
Wake Forest’s points and Indiana’s lack thereof was more of a function of a series of unfortunate, unlikely-to-repeat-themselves events. Sure, it was against FIU and Ball State that such numbers were assembled, but the Hoosiers were near the tops of the country in turnover margin through the first two games. When one combines the tape, the advanced stats, and Indiana’s body of work so far — this is more indicative of a fluky result rather than a systemic quarterbacking problem.
Aside from those five throws, Indiana’s passing offense was so dang productive on Saturday that Connelly’s advanced stat model now projects the Hoosiers to beat Michigan State in Bloomington on Saturday by 3. Yes, you read that right. Indiana played so well in a loss to Wake Forest that they’re now projected to beat a team ranked in the Top 10 last week. There’s reasons for this outside of Indiana’s control — the Spartans got waxed by Wisconsin at home and their win over Notre Dame looks far after the Irish gave up 38 in a loss to a hilariously bad Duke offense. But the Spartans still look as beatable as they’ve been in several seasons under Mark Dantonio.
There’s still reason to not be wholly dismissive of concern surrounding this Indiana team, however. Injuries might be the primary reason for that. You could make the argument Indiana was down three of its best five offensive players on Saturday — including the two most integral cogs of an offensive line that was supposed to be the strength of the unit. Wake Forest’s rushing defense is one of the better ones in the country, and Indiana’s backs had few holes to run through in Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel’s absence. If Feeney’s concussion and Camiel’s back issues don’t resolve before Saturday night, it could force Indiana to be one-dimensional once again and relying on Lagow’s arm.
If that’s the case, Wilson will have a week to work with his quarterback to improve on some of the throws and decisions that led to the bad luck. He wasn’t blameless, and the big-armed Texan could afford to take a bit off his throws at times and work on footwork -- something Wilson’s said is a work in progress with Lagow. But there’s absolutely, certifiably no reason to remotely consider pulling Lagow or considering other options at quarterback just yet. Lagow was wildly productive on Saturday, and the Hoosiers will need his arm to have a chance of winning football games against stout rushing attacks if Camiel & Feeney miss extended time.
Don’t freak out. Indiana football is just fine.
See you on Saturday.