Woof. Indiana was without its top two receivers today, which clearly impacted Indiana’s ability to move the ball considering its reliance on the passing game. At the same time, this is a Nebraska team that has losses to Georgia Southern (in Lincoln!!!) and a Northwestern team that has since lost three straight games, including one to Southern Illinois in Evanston.
It was, predictably, a weird and mostly ugly game. The exception being one of the better interceptions I’ve seen at the college level from Bryant Fitzgerald, who played well all night.
The refs were involved a lot, which did not make things any more bearable for fans of either team. Indiana had 290 yards of total offense, narrowly beating out the 209 yards of penalties the teams combined for tonight.
Nebraska actually ended up having more penalty yards against them than Indiana did - and even got a player ejected for punching an Indiana player in the face - but a missed targeting call that led to a pivotal interception still made the refereeing feel tilted against the Hoosiers.
Injuries and refs aside, losing to Nebraska sucks and does not bode well. The path to bowl eligibility is less clear now, and Tom Allen should be feeling the pressure to address some of the obvious deficiencies with this team.
Here’s Three Things:
I’ve spent a long time thinking about how to address Bazelak’s play of late, and the absence of D.J. Matthews and Cam Camper tonight does not make the task any easier. He suffered from some drops from the receiving core, and the interception that resulted from the missed targeting was his lone turnover tonight.
On the other hand, he only completed 50% of his 44 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. He missed some open receivers with errant throws early, as he did last week, and has appeared to bail out of some plays early at the first sign of pressure.
Accuracy issues aside, it’s hard to say just how much of this is Bazelak’s problem. When the short pass game has to replace the run game, your yards per game and yards per attempt necessarily suffer. He also faces enough pressure to justify being a little gun-shy, like last week when he was pressured on over half of his 66 attempts.
I am pretty tired of seeing the extremely obvious McCulley wildcat calls, but could be talked into Tuttle getting some snaps if Bazelak’s accuracy issues persist or worsen. Maybe even just for the sake of giving Bazelak’s arm a rest, which could be the cause of his accuracy issues.
Too Much Mess
Indiana calling a timeout before the first play was not a good omen. Nor was Tiawan Mullen getting burned deep for an early Nebraska touchdown. I wrote last week that the margin for error for this team will continue to be razor thin, and it was clear early on that Indiana was not going to play a clean enough game to pull this one off.
There were some questionable calls, like the crucial offensive pass interference against Emery Simmons in the third quarter, but 92 yards of penalties will not cut it on the road in a Big Ten game. Add in a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown that seems to indicate the offensive line problems have now contaminated the special teams, and you have yourself a recipe for a loss to a Bad Nebraska team.
A lot of these things, luckily, can be cleaned up. The refs were really enjoying their TV time tonight, and Nebraska tends to bring out the chippiest in the Hoosiers, so it’s safe to assume the penalty problem will not be a recurring one. Hopefully next week, Walt Bell will have the play safely in to the offense to avoid burning a time out before the game starts.
The lapses and busted coverages from the secondary are a bigger concern, with 3 of 4 of Nebraska’s touchdown drives involving passing plays of 20+ yards. There’s simply too much talent in that group to give up so many back breaking plays, especially since they did flash their potential at points today. Mullen had a great pass break up downfield and Indiana’s first sack of the game, from Dasan McCullough of course, was a slow-developing coverage sack.
If Indiana’s secondary can more consistently play to its talent level and the rest of the team can be more disciplined as a whole, the Hoosiers may have a hope to overcome its glaring weakness and eke out three more wins.
(I have decided that until Tom Allen decides to make a change with the offensive line, I will not change how I cover them. Here’s my coverage of the issue from Indiana’s Week 3 Win against Western Kentucky.)
I could probably copy and paste the same entry from last week’s complaints about the offensive line and it would be just as applicable today. There were multiple red zone drives that ended in chip shot field goals rather than touchdowns, a turnover on downs in the middle of the field, and a couple of fourth down attempts from Western Kentucky to confirm that this G5 school was not afraid of Indiana’s offense.
Again, the inability to establish any run game at all, especially for short yardage, proved to be a massive problem for Indiana in multiple facets of the game. The stalled red zone drives are an obvious example and the time of possession was, once again, subpar against a bad opponent. Even the questionable backward pass/fumble fiasco was a direct result of Indiana’s need to throw the ball from any position on the field.
The referees made an attempt to overshadow the offensive line as the story of the game, even when Indiana was moving the ball on offense. I still do not understand what about the late hit on a sliding Bazelak wasn’t a targeting, though I’m not sure that call was the reason the Hoosiers ended up having to settle for a field goal on that drive.
On the other hand, even average run blocking would probably eliminate the need to call multiple designed run plays for Connor Bazelak in the first place. He’s growing on me as Indiana’s starting quarterback, but his strength is not the run game.