Author’s note: In this new Crimson Quarry feature (if you want to be so kind to call it a feature), I’ll offer some thoughts about one topic that sticks out the morning after an Indiana football game.
After enduring the elements at Memorial Stadium last night, there were several potential topics for the morning after. There was the noticeable noise difference that resulted from the south endzone being closed off (even with just about 10,000 fans in the stands at kickoff, and considerably fewer in the second half). There was trying to compare the weather to other times Mother Nature wreaked havoc at The Rock. But ultimate, one thing stood out:
This football game had bad coaching — on both sides — that played a big role, or could have.
In particular, three moments stood out.
1. Clock management at the end of the first half.
There might not be consensus with the first, but Indiana’s clock management at the end of the first half was mind-boggling. After Indiana scored to take a 20-9 lead, Virginia took over on its own 28 with 1:36 left in the half. Since its opening drive, Virginia’s offense had gone three-and-out three times and punted a total of four times - on each and every drive.
On the first play of the final drive before the half, the Cavaliers ran for just four yards, but the Hoosiers the clock roll despite having all three timeouts. On the next two plays, Virginia gained two and seven yards on the ground, respectively, and took the air out of the ball, content to go into the half down 11.
While it’s entirely possible that the situation would have turned out exactly the same, there was no reason for the Hoosiers not to use their timeouts in that situation. Virginia had just one remaining. Even if Indiana had taken a timeout after 1st down, or even after 1st and 2nd downs, the Cavaliers struggling offense probably didn’t have enough time in last night’s conditions to march the length of the field. On the other hand, taking those two timeouts, with one in the bag and 3rd and 4 coming up, might have forced Bronco Mendenhall to alter his play call - maybe Bryce Perkins throws it and the Hoosiers take over with about 1:10 left, a timeout in their pockets, and an offense that was rolling.
Ultimately, this was probably of no consequence last night because Perkins got to the sticks on 3rd down. Instead, this is a larger concern about Tom Allen’s game management, which didn’t impress much in his first season and was a topic at the end of the first half in the season opener at FIU as well. Sooner or later, you’d like to see Allen play one of these right.
2. Bronco Mendenhall kicking the PAT.
After Virginia’s offense sputtered for almost the entire first half, they came out hot in the second half and on a seven-play, 71-yard touchdown drive, cut the Indiana lead to 20-15. I immediately looked to the buddy sitting to my right and said, “with these conditions and as bad as their offense has been, wouldn’t you chase the points now?”
Well, Virginia needed me in that moment. Bronco elected to take one rather than go for two and when the Cavaliers faced a 4th and 5 at the Indiana 31 with 16 seconds left, still trailing 20-16, that decision loomed as large as possible.
There’s no giving Mendenhall credit for believing in his guys, thinking they could tie or take the lead over the last 22 minutes and 59 seconds. On a dry night, that would have been fine thinking. But last night’s weather was not conducive to points, and Bronco should have grabbed them while he could.
3. Mike Debord’s play calling on the final Indiana drive.
Before I get upset about one play call, let me say that the first two weeks have offered something unexpected: Mike DeBord has called a couple good games. Last week at FIU, his offense had more imagination that Tom Allen’s left foot, which was a welcome change from last season. And last night, DeBord did a nice job keeping the offense under control when the conditions didn’t allow for any chances to be taken. He rode the new workhorse, Stevie Scott, for nearly the entire second half, as he very well should have.
But on the final Indiana drive, he got away from Scott on a 2nd and 9, and in a bad way. After the Hoosiers had converted a 3rd and 3 on a short pass to Luke Timian (DeBord even called a drag route on 3rd down that was just past the sticks!!!), Scott went for just one yard on 1st down. On 2nd down, the Hoosiers threw the ball, which drew the ire of some fans in the stadium and online given the situation with a four-point lead and 7:19 remaining in the game.
For me, though, the issue was not throwing the ball. It was the passing play that was chosen. With the ball on the right hash, Ramsey rolled out of the pocket to the right and had only one option - Peyton Hendershot about 6 yards short of the sticks. A free defender on that short side knew it too, and jumped to deflect the inevitable throw to Hendershot. There was nothing wrong with throwing it there. There was too much time left to run it every play on the drive. But rolling out to the far side and even just one more option at receiver could have made all the difference, as could have keeping Ramsey in the pocket where he has the ability to see the whole field and potentially scramble.
In the end, it didn’t hurt, but it was the biggest thud of DeBord’s otherwise competent night. Again, like the clock management, it might be picky to note this. But like the clock management, it’s a continuance of a larger problem that we saw often last season.