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Behind the numbers: No. 8 Cincinnati 38, Indiana 24

Indiana’s defense looked completely different after Micah McFadden’s exit. The numbers back that up

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

After Week 3, Crimson Quarry analyzed the play-by-play data from Saturday’s Indiana-Cincinnati game in order to calculate advanced stats to further contextualize No. 8 Cincinnati’s 38-24 win.

Note: For the purposes of calculating success rate, “success” is defined as a team gaining at least 50 percent of the yards necessary for a first down on first down, at least 70 percent of the necessary yards on second down and 100 percent of the needed yards on third and fourth downs. End-of-half kneels were ignored in this analysis.

Here’s the difference that Micah McFadden’s absence had on Indiana’s defense

With four minutes and four seconds left in the first half and Indiana leading 14-0, Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden was ejected for targeting on a penalty that turned a would-be third-down stop into a second life for Cincinnati’s offense, which the Bearcats soon cashed in on with their first points of the game to cut the deficit to 14-7.

The effect McFadden’s absence had on the Hoosiers’ defense was immediately noticeable and the splits are staggering for Indiana’s defense with McFadden on the field versus on the sideline.

For reference, Cincinnati had 24 offensive snaps before his ejection and 44 after.

Cincinnati’s success rate

  • Before: 20.8%
  • After: 56.8%

Percent of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps that resulted in zero or negative yards

  • Before: 45.8%
  • After: 29.6%

Percent of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps that resulted in a first down or touchdown

  • Before: 8.3%
  • After: 40.9%

Cincinnati’s yards per carry

  • Before: 2.57 yards
  • After: 5.12 yards

Cincinnati’s yards per drop back

  • Before: 2.71 yards
  • After: 7.37 yards

Cincinnati’s explosive play percentage (defined as runs of 12+ yards, passes of 16+ yards)

  • Before: 4.2%
  • After: 11.4%

You can litigate until you’re blue in the face the targeting penalty against McFadden – and even the ejection portion of the rule at large – but what you can’t argue is the difference that McFadden’s presence and absence had on the game.

Indiana abandoned the running game after first down in the second half

The defining plays for Indiana’s offense in the second half were Tim Baldwin Jr.’s fumble on the goal line with the Hoosiers trailing by six and Michael Penix Jr.’s across-the-body interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown, which was his third pick of the game.

But sprinkled throughout the second half were intermediate and deep passes that so often fell incomplete, due to some combination of drops, alligator-armed catch attempts and overthrows.

While acknowledging that the game flow was much different and that Indiana didn’t achieve even remotely the same level of offensive success, it had slight shades of Indiana’s second half against Ohio State in the 2020, when the Hoosiers’ offense opened up by necessity.

Against Cincinnati on Saturday, on 37 second-half plays, the Hoosiers ran the ball just four times on second, third or fourth down, and one of those four runs was on the second play of the half. Based on the definition of success rate that we’re using, Indiana had a successful play on three of those four runs, including Davion Ervin-Poindexter’s 37-yard run on 3rd-and-6, which put the Hoosiers in the red zone prior to Baldwin’s fumble.

In the first half, Indiana ran the ball 42 percent of the time on second down (six out of 14 snaps) and 50 percent of the time on third down (four out of eight snaps), but in the second half, the Hoosiers almost always threw the ball on second down (83 percent of the time; 10 out of 12 snaps) and third down (75 percent; six out of eight snaps).

Until Cincinnati’s game-clinching touchdown with 2:37 remaining in the game, Indiana never trailed by more than six points in the second half and the Hoosiers led for 12 minutes and 54 seconds in the second half, so based on time and score, there wasn’t an apparent need to abandon the run to that degree on later downs. Plus, Indiana’s success rate in the first half when it ran the ball was 45 percent.

On three consecutive first-down runs in the first half, Stephen Carr rushed for six, six and seven yards, respectively. (Eight of Indiana’s final nine rushing attempts in the first half were unsuccessful, however, so perhaps Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan saw things trending in the wrong direction heading into halftime.)

As Indiana’s passing offense has struggled due to a variety of reasons – Penix’s decision-making, drop issues among the wide receivers, inconsistent play-calling, the offensive line’s protection issues – the Hoosiers have yet to prove this season that they’re in position to rely as heavily on Penix’s arm against a top-25 opponent as they did in the second half on Saturday.

Carr (3.66 yards per carry this season) has struggled with carry-to-carry consistency, but he and Baldwin (2.91 yards per carry this season) ran aggressively in the first half and the Hoosiers used a piecemeal approach to finish with more than 150 rushing yards on the day.

Can Indiana find a way to get D.J. Matthews Jr. more touches?

Through three games, Matthews has 14 total touches from scrimmage – 12 receptions and two carries, both of which came on Saturday. He has 183 yards from scrimmage this season, which is good for 13 yards per touch.

Just for perspective, Carr has less than 60 more yards from scrimmage than Matthews (241 to 183), despite having 50 (!) more touches than Matthews this season. Throw in all the caveats you need about the two players playing different positions and having different roles on Indiana’s offense, but Matthews has been a consistent, if limited, big-play threat for an offense that has lacked both consistency and explosive plays through the first three weeks of the season.

Matthews had a season-high seven touches on Saturday and turned them into 148 yards and a rushing touchdown. He has more receptions and receiving yards than Ty Fryfogle and he might be the only player on the roster who’s capable of the punt return touchdown that he pulled off against Idaho.

It’s not sustainable nor feasible to build the entire metaphorical offensive plane out of D.J. Matthews, but it might be time for Sheridan to bump up Matthews’ number of touches from an aisle seat in row 24 to first class, especially as Fyrfogle has struggled holding onto the ball and as Indiana continues to search for explosive plays on the ground.