Well, Indiana covered the spread. Being a home double-digit underdog to Maryland probably should have been an indication of how this game would play out, but in typical Indiana fashion, the Hoosiers had to drag it out to appear more interesting than it was.
Unfortunately, the biggest headline for the game was the injury to Taulia Tagovailoa, who had thrown for two touchdowns and rushed for one before being carted off with an apparent knee injury. The Tagovailoa family has obviously had a tough go of it with football injuries lately, and seeing a top quarterback in the conference go down with a serious injury is never fun.
At this point, I think it’s fair to wonder how much fun there’s left to be had in the 2022 Indiana football season. They had a chance to show something today (and maybe did? see below), and still came up short against the Terrapins.
Here’s Three Things:
The biggest thing for me, and I think any Indiana football fan, entering today was how the team would respond to the firing of Darren Hiller. As I wrote earlier this week, before Carey himself confirmed it, there would be no miracle cure for this group. Probably the best we could hope for was an inspired effort like Nebraska’s apparent midseason turnaround.
There were certainly some great individual efforts today from some of the usual suspects, including Dasan McCullough and Cam Camper. Though it won’t really show up on the stat sheet, Shaun Shivers and Josh Henderson eking out positive yards on the ground today also reflects tremendous individual performances.
For a while, it seemed like this would be just the magic Indiana needed to salvage its bowl game hopes this season. The Hoosiers led at halftime despite a shaky start and never really allowed Maryland to get comfortable when the Terrapins took the lead in the second half. Indiana even led in the fourth quarter when it was clear that Tagovailoa would not be returning to the game.
There were some bad play calling and even worse penalty calling there down the stretch that may have made the game seem closer than it was, but ultimately the Hoosiers didn’t have enough fight to finish off what was ultimately a winnable game over a respectable opponent.
We might have to get used to this.
For a while there, tonight looked like it could have been Walt Bell’s best game to date. He finally called a wide receiver pass for Donaven McCulley, found ways to move the ball when it was clear that the run game wasn’t working, and mostly kept Indiana competitive in a game when Bazelak wasn’t at his best.
On the other hand, he still called 28 run plays today. Perhaps this was an effort to preserve Bazelak’s arm, or maybe it was an expression of faith in the new offensive line coach. Either way, there’s no excuse for a third and long draw call with the game on the line, especially when the run hasn’t worked all day.
The issues were not limited to the offensive plays tonight, unfortunately. Though he earned the praise of the broadcast crew with a DB blitz late in the first half, Tom Allen could not stop Maryland from scoring two touchdowns on the final two drives to Maryland’s backup quarterback.
Maryland only attempted one pass after Tagovailoa went down and Indiana still gave up two scoring drives of over 60 yards to lose the game in Bloomington. These things are not Darren Hiller’s fault.
Indiana was 4-13 on third downs tonight while allowing Maryland to convert eight of its 17 third down attempts. Four of those third down conversions came in the final two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter for Maryland.
Simply put, this will not cut it. I’m reluctant to call the entire defensive performance Bad, because they were once again tasked with playing almost 35 minutes of game time. The defense just couldn’t execute when it counted tonight and, predictably, didn’t get a ton of help from the offense.
Indiana isn’t going to have a big margin for error for the rest of the season, assuming they’re picked to win any of the remaining games. Both the offense and the defense will have to do better in third down situations if the Hoosiers hope to win any more games this season.
Forcing a turnover or two per game will certainly help Indiana in these games down the line, but it doesn’t really seem fair to ask the defense to do everything. The offense has to be able to extend drives whenever it can get momentum and throwing an interception to start each half is a great way to put the defense in the hole.
Third downs and coaching will be the things to keep an eye on as Indiana heads to Rutgers this week, which could be the last winnable game on the schedule considering the coach on the other sideline.