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Three things we learned: Indiana football falls to Louisville 21-14

Almost

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana managed to make it interesting after falling behind 21-0 in a disastrous first half.

Tayven Jackson led a couple of nice touchdown drives once he was allowed to throw down the field a bit more, but the Hoosiers ultimately came up short on a fourth and inches at the goal line with a chance to tie.

As expected, this game showed us a lot about what we can expect from this Indiana team going forward. This defense is tough and talented, Tayven is clearly QB1, and Jaylin Lucas is fast. A lot of stuff we knew, or thought we knew, through the first two weeks.

Unfortunately, it also confirmed some of our worst fears coming into the game. The offensive line remains a work in progress, the play calling was suspect at points, and Jeff Brohm continues to beat Tom Allen defenses with explosive plays.

At the end of the day, a winnable game got away from a team that needs to take advantage of every winnable game to have a prayer at bowl eligibility. Next week gives Indiana the chance to get to two wins when Akron comes to town and it’s safe to say, Allen and company can’t let another one get away from them.

Here’s Three Things:


Tayven Jackson

There were points in the first half where you could tell Tayven was making his first real start as a college quarterback. A couple of his passes sailed on him, but he got bailed out by some nice catches from guys like Donaven McCulley and Josh Henderson.

Jackson settled in during the second half though, hitting Jaylin Lucas 30 yards downfield for the first passing touchdown of his college career. He finished the game with 299 passing yards - also a career high - and completed a series of big passes on Indiana’s other (97 yard !!) touchdown drive.

Indiana’s offense looks best when Jackson is allowed to throw down the field like he was in the second half, especially since Jackson spreads the ball around to get everyone in the receiver room involved. Tayven hit six different receivers for completions of 15 yards or more.

If Indiana can stick with this game plan going forward, there’s definitely an argument to be made that Tayven should remain the starter even when Dexter Williams II returns.

While I wouldn’t exactly call him a dual-threat guy, he’s capable of evading pressure when the protection breaks down and nearly scrambled for a Penix-esque touchdown run on Indiana’s final drive. He’s also Indiana’s best passer since Healthy Mike Penix in 2020.

With a Jackson-led passing attack, Indiana will have a legitimate chance at improving on last year’s miserable offensive showing.


Defense

The other reason that Indiana was able to make this game competitive was the defense’s second half shut out of Louisville’s high-powered offense. Phillip Dunnam came up with a huge interception that set up Indiana’s long touchdown drive and brought Indiana within a score.

After getting torched in the first half by Jamari Thrash, the defense settled in and started getting more pressure on Jack Plummer, forcing some bad decisions and a few near turnovers.

Aaron Casey continued to dominate, finishing with three tackles for losses, including two sacks. The defensive line also appears to be living up to its preseason billing as one of the most talented the Hoosiers have had in recent memory.

It’s worth noting that this defense also doesn’t spend as much time on the field as it has in past seasons. Indiana possessed the ball for longer than Louisville today thanks to Indiana’s third down defense and the new NCAA clock rule.

If this defense can stay healthy and rested, they should keep Indiana competitive against some of the weaker opponents on the Big Ten slate.


Coaching

Indiana had the chance to tie the game with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, sitting inside the one yard line down one score on fourth down. Rather than try to punch it in with a quarterback sneak from 6’3” 215 lb. Tayven Jackson, Indiana brought the ball backwards on a handoff to Josh Henderson, who was tackled for a loss.

Considering the lack of push from the line on that play, it’s not clear that even a sneak would have gotten Indiana in the end zone, but the decision was far from the only questionable one on the offensive side of the ball today.

After opting for the better passer of the two quarterbacks, the Hoosiers still ran 8 designed run plays for Tayven Jackson, most of which were lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. On third and longs, we saw a few screen passes that similarly failed to move the sticks.

These decisions become all the more frustrating when, as he did for points in the second half, Walt Bell demonstrates that he knows how to put together a drive that maximizes Jackson’s arm talent. For a team that will not have a lot of room for error, misusing players in key situations does not bode well.

The game management was a bit all over the place today too. Indiana burned consecutive time outs to draw up a play that led to Jackson’s lone interception. Louisville scored its first touchdown on the resulting drive.

Things appeared to swing in the other direction with a gutsy, clever onside kick call to start the first half. But Tom Allen burned another timeout drawing up the failed fourth and goal handoff, which prevented him from stopping the clock on Louisville’s last drive.

I didn’t notice any major personnel changes on the defense, so I’m going to give Matt Guerrieri credit for making some half time adjustments with his group that helped get Indiana back into this game after an ugly first half. Still, the explosive plays to Louisville’s best player in the first half are what made the game so lopsided in the first place.

With the talent that this roster has, I hope the coaching staff can make the necessary adjustments to put them in position to win a couple of these close games this season. Fewer penalties, consistently better play calls, and better clock management will go a long way for this team.