After a win that felt more like a loss, Indiana’s offense has to figure out what it really is.
Between dropped passes, unspotted open receivers, bad play-calling, and letdowns in big moments, the 29-27 final score masked a poor showing by IU’s offense. The Hoosiers were significantly out-gained (474-282) by an Akron team with the third-worst total offense in FBS entering the game.
IU head coach Tom Allen spent Sunday reviewing game film with his staff, meeting with the team, and diagnosing some of the problems that arose on Saturday.
“Without question, didn’t play to our standard,” Allen said at Monday’s press conference. “Not acceptable at all in regards to us not finishing drives offensively. In those situations, would have changed the whole complexion of the game if you do. Dropped balls, to me, are just lack of focus and fundamentals of looking the ball in and then running after you catch it to create really momentum-shifting, game-changing plays that hurt you in those situations.”
Allen added that there’s now a pattern of two consecutive weeks with his offense struggling in the first half, which has to be addressed. But Indiana’s offense finished with more yardage in the first half than the second on Saturday. This was an issue of an entire game, not one half.
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell identified three main things that went wrong for the Hoosiers on Saturday.
He pointed out IU’s troubles on third down against Akron, noting the unit had a few more third-and-longs than preferred, though not an excessive amount. But the Hoosiers went 3 for 14 on third-down conversions, a rate which won’t get the job done most weeks. He also noted the pass protection struggled for the first time this season, though he credited Akron’s defense for mixing things up in pass-rushing.
The other big issue Bell saw is one that’s been prevalent in discourse surrounding the team the last few weeks.
“The short-yardage goal line (situations), especially coming off Louisville, how much time that was invested in that, we have to be better there,” Bell said Monday. “I grew up with a high school head coach (that said), ‘If you can’t get a yard, you don’t deserve to win.’ We had two or three chances to put the game away in short-yardage situations, didn’t do that.”
A week after Indiana was stuffed at the goal line by Louisville with the game on the line, the Hoosiers had several similar opportunities against Akron, as Bell said. It was going so poorly that Allen opted to kick a field goal on fourth and goal from the one-yard line in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, IU attempted two direct snap runs with quarterback-turned wide receiver Donaven McCulley. Neither worked. In the second half, Bell tried to punch it in with Christian Turner, and he tried a quarterback sneak with Tayven Jackson. Both failed, leading to the short field goal.
IU’s offense, through four weeks, ranks at No. 103 in FBS in total offense. Rutgers and Iowa are the only Big Ten teams below the Hoosiers. This is an offense that, through a third of the season, is not doing anything particularly well consistently.
Bell and Allen both described IU’s offensive identity as being run-first. But the team is 114th in the nation in rushing offense, ahead of only Northwestern in the Big Ten.
“We’re going to be a run-first football team, that has an option element to it, so we can at least get our hats back, and there’s going to be heavy play action as a part of that component,” Bell said. “That’s who we’re going to be.”
Bell’s play-calling has caused problems themselves as well, at times. In reviewing his own performance through the first four weeks, he’s most regretful about the Ohio State game. Monday wasn’t the first time he mentioned it after the 23-3 defeat — he said he needed to be more aggressive in the second half. But Bell boiled down the Louisville and Akron games to a few plays that didn’t go IU’s way, which would have changed the entire outlook of the game.
Allen was asked on Monday about Bell’s play-calling and whether it’s maximizing the offense’s potential, and he acknowledged that’s one of the litany of things going wrong with the offense right now. But he made clear that it’s just one part of the overall picture of the offense.
“We’re not scoring the points we need to score, without question. We’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s everything. It’s play-calling. It’s technique. It’s the scheme adjustments. It’s everything we need to do to be able to maximize our guys and help us get the ball in the end zone,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, we’re performance-based assessment, and we’ve got to perform as players and as coaches. The goal is to get the ball in the end zone offensively so we can win football games. So (we’ve) got to get better.”
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