Indiana’s offense disappeared for about 80% of that game between Bazelak’s early second half touchdown pass to D.J. Matthews and the final drive. When the lack of timeouts forced Walt Bell back into his uptempo offense and the Hoosiers started moving the ball again.
As was the case for much of last year, the defense kept Indiana in the game for way longer than it should have and deserves most of the credit for the win. Hats off to Bret Bielema as well for getting Indiana’s defensive secondary involved in a game in which he had a 200+ yard rusher.
There are still a lot of glaring issues, starting with the offensive line play. I am not holding my breath for a huge step forward on that side of the ball until that gets resolved somehow. On the other hand, it’s great to beat Illinois.
Here’s Three Things;
Big Arm Bazelak. While he struggled a bit with accuracy issues, at least in the first quarter, Connor Bazelak seems to have won the job out of camp with his ability to stretch the field, even on dead-end drives when the offense can’t get anything else going.
Bazelak hit Cam Camper for 40 yards on a 3rd and 16 during Indiana’s first possession to extend a drive that ended with a 43 yard field goal from Charles Campbell that put the Hoosiers up 3-0 early. He also found D.J Matthews for a 52 yard bomb in the second quarter that put Indiana up 10-7.
He didn’t look as great on the shorter distance throws, and did miss some open guys downfield. Hopefully this was a bit of week one nerves rather than a long term issue, because Indiana didn’t really have a ton of other things going on offense. To his credit, the lone interception he threw to start the second half was not his fault.
Luke suggested in his statistical comparison of Bazelak and Jack Tuttle that Bazelak seemed to have the better arm and better numbers passing downfield to pass it up. As he observed though, Bazelak was coming from an offensive line at Mizzou that allowed him to sit in the pocket for a little longer than Tuttle had at Indiana.
One thing that stood out tonight though was Bazelak’s quick release, which allowed him to work more with whatever protection he had on a given play, including throwing the ball away in a hurry when needed.
Walt Bell (Kind of)
What did we learn about Indiana’s new offensive coordinator in week one? Well, it’s hard to say.
His willingness to run an uptempo offense, along with Bazelak’s ability to air it out, was basically all Indiana had going on that side of the ball tonight. There was no run game to speak of, as the Hoosiers had 12 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
At this point, it’s not clear whether these are Bell’s preferences or simply the only things the Hoosiers are able to do with this group against that defense. The offensive line appears to once again be a weakness, to the point that it doesn’t really matter who’s in the backfield or what the play design is on a run play.
If quick passes are what we have to work with, I suppose I prefer the downfield, quick possessions to the slow, agonizing DeBord/Sheridan iterations. I do, however, have questions about what Darren Hiller is doing on the offensive line and wonder how long this scheme will work now that opponents have tape on the Hoosiers.
Poor offensive line play has now been the common denominator in struggling offenses with two different coordinators in the last two seasons. Last year ended with the firing of Nick Sheridan. Will something change this year?
The biggest knock on Bell in this first game was his bizarre fixation with third down running plays featuring a relatively immobile quarterback. There is a fine line between creative ways to get around poor blocking and poor play calling, and these plays are firmly on the wrong side of that line.
I think when Indiana transitioned from the Kevin Wilson era to the Tom Allen era, the program also switched from running back U to linebacker U. Cam Jones appears to have a shot at the Indiana LB to NFL pipeline, following in the footsteps of Tegray Scales and Micah McFadden in recent history.
Jones was everywhere for Indiana tonight, pressuring the quarterback, stopping the run, and even recovering a fumble in the first half. Indiana’s season flashed before its eyes when Jones was briefly down with an injury in the second half, since he had already demonstrated that he would be the leader for the defense this year by that point in the game.
With Bell’s uptempo offense, he may be asked to shoulder a load similar to what McFadden was tasked with last year. This obviously makes any lingering health issues a concern and will certainly be something to monitor as the season goes on.
Nevertheless, Indiana fans should enjoy this while we can. Jones is playing with a chip on his shoulder and trying to singlehandedly prove that last season was an anomaly for Tom Allen’s Indiana Hoosiers.