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What was up with Indiana’s offensive play calling against Ohio State?

The Hoosiers played the Buckeyes close but failed to capitalize on offense.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Chief among the takeaways from Indiana football’s 23-3 loss to Ohio State on Saturday was the conservative approach on offense throughout the game.

Indiana crossed midfield on offense three times, coming away with a single field goal. The first occasion was thanks to a 24-yard pass from Tayven Jackson. On the second, Indiana’s drive began on the Hoosiers’ own 42 yard line. Both drives were led by Jackson in the second quarter as Indiana entered halftime down just 10-3.

In the fourth quarter, with Sorsby back in the game, Indiana reached Ohio State’s 36 yard-line after starting on its own 21 before a sack by Caden Curry and ill-fated conversion attempt on 4th and 13 led to a turnover on downs.

During a press conference Monday, offensive coordinator Walt Bell said the plan was to stay in the fight with Ohio State in the first half. Turning third downs into convertible fourth-and-short situations. The Buckeyes typically push the score out of reach in the second quarter against the Hoosiers, Bell said, which is correct.

Indiana attempted to convert on fourth down three times. The one conversion came off of a penalty on Ohio State.

Indiana’s goal on offense in the second quarter appeared to be keeping the ball out of Ohio State’s hands. The Hoosiers called just two pass attempts to 13 rush attempts, with each side’s time of possession hovering around seven minutes and thirty seconds.

Then, in the third quarter, Indiana’s first offensive drive (led by Jackson) consisted of

  • A rush between the tackles on first down, gain of two yards
  • A short pass broken up
  • Another rush between the tackles, gain of five yards
  • Punt on fourth-and-3 on the 36

Indiana’s next drive after that gained just three yards. After that, Sorsby was inserted and led Indiana all the way from its own 7 yard line to the Ohio State 36 before aforementioned sequence on a failed fourth down conversion. In the meantime of those third quarter drives, Ohio State went up 20-3.

Bell expressed regret with his decision-making in the second half, saying he was too conservative.

“But we played pitter-pat too long. I played pitter-pat too long,” Bell said. “At some point, you got to go be aggressive.”

Indiana was juggling that gameplan, keeping the game close against an explosive Ohio State offense, with seeing what it has in two redshirt freshmen quarterbacks. Ohio State was largely doing the same, not testing Indiana’s secondary with throws to Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

It was, altogether, a strange plan with bad results.

Jackson was Indiana’s quarterback during the critical third quarter that allowed Ohio State to break away. With him in the game, Indiana called five passing plays of which just two were called in both drives he led in the third. Both attempts fell incomplete.

Then, when Sorsby entered the game late in the third quarter, Indiana called two straight passing plays, each ending in completions. On his drive that closed the third and opened the fourth, Indiana called 11 total passing plays, six of which were completions. Indiana kept having Sorsby pass, game out of reach, on the next drive as well.

Sorsby finished with 15 passing attempts on 17 dropbacks compared to Jackson’s five on as many dropbacks. Needing to seize momentum, Indiana wanted both until Ohio State scored multiple times and for another quarterback to enter to call passes.

The combination of decisions is... puzzling. Do you not trust Jackson over Sorsby to pass? If so, why have him in the game at such a critical time? The two got equal snaps but the passing discrepancy at key moments is obvious.

Indiana will have a lesser opponent on Friday night with FCS Indiana State coming to Bloomington. Jackson will start that game but Sorsby will see snaps, just as the two did against Ohio State.

This is all confusing, week one created more questions than answers not just for Indiana’s quarterback situation but the offensive approach as a whole. Perhaps another week, against less 5-Star prospects, will yield some answers.