There was a time, as recently as 2015, when losing to Rutgers could be an interesting, even mildly entertaining viewing experience. Sure, we knew the defense would be a disaster, as always under Kevin Wilson, but at least we got to seem a handful of future NFL players ball out on offense.
Today is a stark reminder of how far we’ve come since then. Today’s win was Rutgers’ first home win against a Big Ten opponent since 2017, and it came easily for the Scarlet Knights. After going up 14-0 in the first five minutes of the game, Indiana scored just three points for the rest of the game, eventually falling 24-17.
Here’s Three Things:
Big Ten Officiating
Cool game, stripes! Rutgers’ first score of the game today came on an extremely questionable catch call in the corner of the end zone, even in real time, and the play was never reviewed. The Hoosiers even got an offsides call on the subsequent PAT, giving the officials more time to look at the play.
The refusal to review the play is even more inexplicable considering the other plays that were reviewed in this game. Indiana had its offensive tempo disrupted on the second drive of the game for a review of a standard, out-route sideline catch, effectively preventing them from taking any momentum away from the opening drive touchdown.
Ideally, Indiana does not need a well-officiated game to beat Rutgers. The Big Ten refs have been this way for as long as I can remember, and more often than not it works against Indiana. Maybe this is karma for the call that went Indiana’s way in week one against Illinois, or maybe it’s just a return to the mean of incompetent officiating.
Either way, constantly being in a position where these officials can make or break you is not going to be a sustainable way to play football in the Big Ten.
After an inspiring first drive, Indiana’s offense appeared to run out of ways to get the ball outside of the hashmarks and everything came to a screeching halt.
The Hoosiers didn’t get a first down in the second half until they caught a break on a defensive pass interference call with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game. That drive ended with a 52 yard field goal attempt that could have tied the game, but Campbell missed for just the second time this year and the Hoosiers came up empty.
Indiana’s next two drives consisted of five total plays, -7 yards from scrimmage, a punt, and a pick six that iced the game for Rutgers. When Indiana finally did string together a scoring drive (field goal) in the final minutes, it was past mattering.
A serious football program cannot perform like that on the road against Rutgers. Aside from the late interception, Bazelak and the rest of the offense played about as well as you could have hoped early on and it still wasn’t nearly enough to beat a .500 Greg Schiano team.
It may be time to throw in Dexter Williams just to change things up. Indiana doesn’t really have anything to lose at this point.
I don’t know what Indiana could have done differently to win that game. Jaylin Lucas gave Indiana an offensive and special teams boost that it had been missing all season, Indiana was healthy and the defense played better than its average in terms of points and yards per game allowed.
Unfortunately, the offensive struggles were hardly exceptional, especially considering Rutgers’ decision to commit to coverage rather than pressuring Bazelak. Indiana averages fewer than 100 yards on the ground per game, and today’s 62 rushing yards is far from the worst performance that Indiana’s turned in this year.
Rod Carey warned us that he was not a miracle worker, and it appears as though this could be around the ceiling for Indiana’s offense this year. Williams remains the last unexplored option at this point and it doesn’t feel fair to ask any individual to overcome an issue that nobody on the coaching staff appears to have an answer for.
Behind a better defense and a comparable offense, last year’s Indiana team lost all but two Big Ten games by double digit margins. It’s also clear at this point that Indiana’s lone Big Ten win was a fluke, as the Illini haven’t lost since and rank among the conference’s best defenses.
It’s hard to find a fourth win on the schedule with the way Indiana has played of late, so it may be time to turn our attention to the offseason and all of the roster/staffing changes to come.