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An examination of how Indiana’s offense fared in Jack Tuttle’s first start

The Hoosiers’s explosive play rate took a big hit, but their success rate was up. That should be an acceptable trade-off.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana is probably one Miles Marshall dropped touchdown pass away from the postgame discourse about the Hoosiers’s 14-6 win over No. 16 Wisconsin taking a different complexion. An eight-point squeaker of a victory – one that required Reese Taylor’s cornerback instincts telling him to raise his left arm to break up Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz’s potential touchdown pass on fourth down to Chimere Dike – could’ve been a 15-point romp, one in which Indiana not only would’ve covered the spread in Vegas but also won by more points than the Hoosiers were being given by the oddsmakers.

So, as you digest the win in the coming days, just remember that if Marshall hauls in that pass as he should’ve, or if Indiana’s backup quarterback turned new starter/savior Jack Tuttle had led Marshall a little better, both the narrative and Indiana’s stats would’ve grown.

As Crimson Quarry has done in each of the last two weeks, we went through the play-by-play transcript of the game and analyzed the results in the form of some advanced stats. As a reminder, success rate is defined as an offense gaining at least 50 percent of the necessary yards for a first down on first down, at least 70 percent of the yards needed on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. An average overall success rate is just above 40 percent.

End-of-half kneel downs were not included.

When Indiana was on offense

Success rate (number of plays in parentheses)

  • First down: 30.4% (23)
  • Second down: 55.6% (18)
  • Third down: 40.0% (10)
  • Fourth down: N/A
  • Total: 41.2% (51)

The Hoosiers’s 41.2-percent success rate against the Badgers was roughly in line with the national average for FBS teams, which is encouraging when you throw that metric in a pot to make a nice December stew, along with some Additional Context (Jack Tuttle’s first-ever start in college, in a road game against a top-20 opponent that has given Indiana as many fits as any team in the Big Ten over the last two decades).

Indiana’s success rate for the game was about six percentage points higher than it was against Maryland (35.2%) and Ohio State (34.9%). While Indiana didn’t score as many points and certainly didn’t produce as many explosive plays (we’ll address this in a minute), the Hoosiers performed better on a play-by-play, down-by-down basis than they did in the previous two weeks, in terms of staying on or ahead of schedule.

It may come as a surprise but the Hoosiers were better at picking up productive yardage on second (55.6%) and third down (40.0%) than they were on first down (30.4%).

In short, that means that Indiana gained four yards or fewer on roughly 70 percent of its first-down snaps, but more than half the time on second down, the Hoosiers picked up the yards needed to get to 3rd & short, or better. Even with a healthy Michael Penix Jr., Indiana wasn’t necessarily consistent at staying on schedule on first down. The Hoosiers’s first-down success rates against Ohio State and Maryland were just 36.7 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively.

But with Tuttle filling in admirably for Penix, Indiana’s offense performed better on later downs compared to first down, in terms of success rate.

Indiana was 4-for-10 on third down and two of those conversions came on the Hoosiers’s second drive of the game, when they pieced together a 12-play, 53-yard touchdown drive that gave them a lead that they never relinquished.

Explosive-play rate

  • Plays of at least 10 yards: 9.8% (five plays)
  • Plays of at least 20 yards: 2.0% (one play)

Look, you probably don’t need us to tell you that there weren’t many explosive plays in a 14-6 game played between two Big Ten teams. This might be the biggest area of concern, or focus of improvement, for Indiana’s offense with Tuttle under center.

Only five of Indiana’s snaps resulted in a gain of at least 10 yards and just one resulted in a play of at least 20 yards. The Hoosiers’s 10-yard-play rate was nearly 70 percent greater against Maryland (15.5%) than it was against Wisconsin, and it was almost three times larger against Ohio State (27.3%).

The percent of the team’s snaps on offense that resulted in gains of at least 20 yards was closer to 10 percent against the Buckeyes and Terrapins, too.

You probably only have to look at wide receiver Ty Fryfogle’s stat line from Saturday to see the correlation here. He caught one of four targets for 35 yards, as he was responsible for Indiana’s longest gain of the game.

Once again, Miles Marshall’s drop could’ve held that distinction, and it would’ve broken the game open if he had stayed on his feet and capitalized on Wisconsin’s busted coverage.

But it’s Indiana’s lack of explosive plays on its 50 other non-kneel down offensive snaps that make Marshall’s drop loom so large in contrast, even after a victory.

Run/pass splits

  • First down: 16 running plays, seven passing plays
  • Second down: Nine running plays, nine passing plays
  • Third down: Three running plays, seven passing plays

All things considered, Indiana’s run/pass splits by down feel like they’re as expected, at least in hindsight. With a first-time starting quarterback in a game that was played on the road against an opponent that is traditionally capable of running the ball at will and eating the clock, Indiana was usually run-first on first down, it had a true 50/50 split on second down, then the Hoosiers were more willing to air it out, on a percentage basis, on third down.

While running back Stevie Scott III finished with just 57 rushing yards on 18 carries, a third of his attempts resulted in gains of at least five yards. For a bulldozer back like Scott, his performance should arguably be judged by his ability to pick up first downs in short yardage situations, as well as his ability to consistently pick up four, five or six yards, rather than his home-run potential, which has certainly been limited this season.

With Sampson James missing the second game in a row for undisclosed reasons, multi-purpose back David Ellis filled in as Indiana’s backup running back and offered a change-of-pace weapon behind Scott. While his production didn’t match that of Tim Baldwin Jr.’s numbers against Maryland, like Baldwin, Ellis provided a slighter, speedier option.

He had an 11-yard run on 1st & 10 and a seven-yard gain on 2nd & 6, so as Tuttle is growing into his role as Indiana’s newfound starter — and as long as James is out of the picture — there are probably five to 10 carries per game for Ellis and/or Baldwin – the latter of whom did not record a carry on Saturday after a breakout game against Maryland.

When Indiana was on defense

Success rate (number of plays in parentheses)

  • First down: 28.6% (28)
  • Second down: 45.8% (24)
  • Third down: 53.3% (15)
  • Fourth down: 0.0% (1)
  • Total: 39.7% (68)

For the day, Indiana’s success rate on offense slightly outpaced that of Wisconsin – 41.2 percent to 39.7. While the Badgers were consistently able to stay on or ahead of schedule on second and third down, the Hoosiers largely kept them in check on first down (3.8 yards per play, on average) and don’t underestimate how important Indiana’s lone fourth-down stop was in sealing the victory.

Just ask Penn State about how costly a late touchdown can be, if it provides an opponent the chance for a critical two-point conversion that’s capable of shifting momentum.

Explosive-play rate

  • Plays of at least 10 yards: 20.6% (14)
  • Plays of at least 20 yards: 4.4% (3)

Wisconsin had nearly three times as many offensive plays that resulted in gains of at least 10 yards, compared to Indiana. But the Hoosiers prevented the back-breaking explosive plays that, say, Ohio State is capable of consistently producing. Only three of the Badgers’s snaps went for at least 20 yards.

On first down, Wisconsin only averaged 2.8 yards per passing play (including sacks), which is what allowed the Hoosiers to hold the Badgers’s success rate on first down in check.

Tight end Jake Ferguson had four first-down receptions, two of which came on second down and two were on third down, so it was Wisconsin’s ability to keep drives alive that posed the biggest threat to Indiana, rather than any sort of game-changing, explosive plays.

Excluding the last drive of the first half when it ran out the clock deep in its own territory, Wisconsin’s drives lasted five, three, nine, 12, five, 12, eight and 14 plays, respectively. On an afternoon in which the Badgers had just one three-and-out, it was Indiana’s takeaway-happy, stout-in-the-red-zone defense that once again deserves all the credit that it’s receiving.

Tiawan Mullen’s sack and forced fumble against Graham Mertz led to Indiana’s first touchdown of the day and Jamar Johnson picked off Mertz on Wisconsin’s first possession of the second half, which came right after the Hoosiers took a 14-3 lead.

Were it not for Tuttle’s fumble on 3rd-and-1 at Wisconsin’s 40-yard line, the turnovers that Indiana’s defense forced could’ve directly led to 14 points.