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Three Things: Ohio State 23, Indiana 3

Did you think something else was going to happen

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

And we’re off.

Indiana opened its 2023 campaign with a home loss to the no. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes, who came to Bloomington as 30 point favorites.

Indiana covered the spread today, mostly on the back of a solid defensive effort from Matt Guerrieri’s group, but failed to generate any offensive momentum with its two-quarterback approach. For the second year in a row, Indiana opened its season with a loss of yards on its first play from the line of scrimmage.

This kind of deceptively close final score makes this matchup a week one game that’s even more ripe for overreaction than usual, so I’ll try to approach this one with caution. I can’t imagine either fanbase to be truly happy about the game, but there were some positives for both teams that could lead to some momentum going forward.

Tom Allen has gone to great lengths to keep his own plan for the 2023 season a secret, making it difficult to forecast how this team can respond to what transpired today. All we know is what we saw in those four quarters, which I will spell out for you below.

Here’s Three Things:

The Quarterback Competition

Tom Allen committed to his secret starter bit so hard today that both quarterbacks were taking snaps with the first string offense in warmups today. In classic Indiana football fashion, the depth chart featured the “- - or --” in the section where the staff should have named its starting quarterback.

Instead, Tom Allen opted for giving both quarterbacks a shot, letting Brendan Sorsby lead the first two drives before handing the keys to Tayven Jackson for the rest of the first half. Together, the two combined for 82 yards on nine completions and 21 passing attempts.

Before diving into what that might mean for Indiana, it’s worth noting how the two were used. 21 passes total does not reflect a lot of confidence in the passing ability of either player, but Sorsby finished with 16 attempts compared to Tayven’s five.

Both quarterbacks ran the option offense extensively, which came as something of a surprise considering the different skillsets of the two players. Sorsby appeared to be the more capable runner of the two, while Jackson had a better feel for when he needed to get the ball to the playmakers, like Jaylin Lucas.

It’s also worth knowing that Dexter Williams II was dressed today, despite still being unavailable while he recovers from knee surgery. His return to the field appears to be much sooner than anyone would have expected.

In the long run, Indiana will need to develop one of Brendan Sorsby or Jackson into a passer capable of running a Big Ten offense. With Williams possibly on the brink of return though, there could be an advantage to leaning on this option-heavy offense that’s catered to a player like Dexter who can create big plays with his own legs.

Until then, I’d expect a heavy dose of both Tayven and Brendan. The offense as it was called today may not cater to their skillsets, but Walt Bell and Tom Allen have something to prove in the short term that may demand postponing the current passing issue.

The Coaching

From my perspective, it’s not clear that Tom Allen has a clear idea as to how to right the ship after the failures of the last two seasons. Naming a starting quarterback or having a clear timeline for his preferred quarterback’s return would seemingly be the first step towards stabilizing the program, but Allen declined to do so in the week leading up to his matchup with a national title contender.

Beyond the depth chart, Allen’s lack of commitment extended to game management in key situations. The Hoosiers played it conservatively on offense on their first three drives before attempting a fourth down conversion towards the end of the first half that set Ohio State up for a 39-yard field goal that extended its lead to a touchdown.

However poorly the offense played, Indiana was never out of this game. You would not have known that from the play calling, though.

One of the biggest additions from the transfer portal was Dequece Carter, a true slot receiver with one of the best PFF grades in the country on deep passes. He had one, singular catch today for 16 yards.

Ultimately, this is why I was not high on Indiana entering the season, no matter how many shiny transfer portal additions Tom Allen made. The lack of talent hasn’t been egregious over the last two seasons, but the coaching staff has not put their players in a position to succeed with their skillsets.

Indiana will not have a big margin for error with its schedule this year. Bowl eligibility or even an improvement on the last two seasons will depend on the staff maximizing its talent, which is not something I saw a ton of today.

The Defense

Indiana’s defense did more than could have reasonably been expected today in holding Ohio State to 23 points. If there were any bright spots in today’s game, it was on that side of the ball.

Andre Carter played as advertised with four tackles, including two for losses in his Indiana debut. Aaron Casey also looked like a future pro, stuffing Ohio State running backs up the middle on multiple third and short runs up the middle.

Coming into the season, these were the position groups of strength for Indiana. What’s more encouraging is the eight passes defended and one interception created by a relatively untested defensive secondary.

Indiana’s floor for this season drastically improves if the defense can keep up this kind of effort, but the strain placed on them by the lackluster offense was already apparent today. Indiana’s defense has been overburdened by a bad offense for the last two seasons, leading to some talented groups underperforming statistically.

Workload aside, I’m also a bit concerned by Ohio State’s play calling against Indiana today. They’re going through their own quarterback issues, but Ryan Day decided not to test Indiana’s most vulnerable defensive unit today in their pursuit of developing Kyle McCord.

We’ll know more before the rest of the Big Ten schedule picks up, as Akron is coming to Bloomington with a passing attack that will most definitely test Indiana’s secondary. Until then, it’s easy to imagine this defense making Indiana more competitive in games so long as the offense can provide the bare minimum from here on out.