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Indiana v. Ohio State: what to watch for today

Ignoring today’s opponent, Indiana needs some things to change to eke out four more wins on the season

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, Indiana is 2-4 with six games remaining on the schedule. The Hoosiers will need to win four of those six games to be safely bowl eligible, and avoid taking a step backwards from what many believe to be a general upward trend for the program since Tom Allen has taken over. To be frank, today is not one of the best chances that Indiana has to earn one of those four wins, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t important.

These are the things I’d like to see Indiana do, win or lose, today to make me feel better about the team’s odds of getting to that six win mark and giving the team another chance to improve its record in Bowl games.

Avoid Sacks

Obviously, I could have started and ended this article by saying the Hoosiers need to play better offense, period. Barring a midseason rehiring of Kalen DeBoer though, I think we’re going to have to settle for smaller victories and hope that things can at least get less ugly. One thing that jumps out immediately, even compared to Nick Sheridan’s 2020 offense, is the number of sacks given up this year.

Last year, Indiana’s quarterbacks were sacked ten times on the season, resulting in 51 lost yards for the offense. So far this year, the offensive line has surrendered 12 sacks that have set the Hoosiers back 81 yards. This is in two fewer games, too. The effects have been catastrophic, like last week, when Michigan State really wanted to give us a chance to win the game there at the end. Tuttle got sacked twice for a combined loss of sixteen yards on the final two drives, drives that Indiana was lucky to have in the first place.

This doesn’t all fall on the offensive line. Before his injury, Penix looked to be a little more reluctant in his decision making this year and held on to the ball for much longer than he should have. We don’t have a huge sample size for Tuttle yet, but the stats from last week indicate that he is also probably taking a bit too long to get rid of the ball. Even a modest improvement in this area would do wonders for an offense that has yet to get anything real going so far this year.

Timely Takeaways

Asking the defense to do more this year feels patently unfair, considering the way they’ve kept this season from being a complete disaster. At the same time, the Hoosiers need wins badly and there are not a ton of reasons to believe that the offense will magically get them where they need to be without a little extra help, wherever they can get it from.

Indiana intercepted 17 passes last year, a feat any team would have a hard time replicating. On those 17 picks, they averaged 15.9 return yards. Last year’s offense was fourth in the conference in points scored per game, despite being tenth in yards per game, which suggests that field position was essential to whatever successes the group was having last year. The offense this year is only averaging nineteen fewer yards per game, but over six points fewer per game scored. Those six points would have been the difference in two of the Hoosiers’ four losses this year.

Fewer Drops

With such a small margin for error, Indiana cannot stand to continue dropping passes the way they have to this point in the season. While I remain skeptical that the offense would be flourishing if there were no execution issues, it would be unfair to Sheridan to ignore the big plays left on the field by the receiving core so far this year. Ty Fryfogle alone had three drops against Cincinnati, an unacceptable performance from a preseason third-team All American selection. Peyton Hendershot was a third team all-conference selection last year, but so far only has one touchdown reception on the season and fewer catches than Fryfogle.

With the offensive line struggling, the running game isn’t likely to emerge overnight and save the season. Indiana can no longer afford to have some of their star players miss big plays in crucial moments. After the season, Tom Allen will need to completely reevaluate the offensive coaching staff, without a doubt. For now though, the players can make our lives (and the defense’s) a little bit better if they simply execute during the few plays a game when Sheridan’s play calling leaves somebody open downfield.