Big picture, can IU football feel good about the direction it’s heading?

So now what?

Indiana (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) wasted a good start in a 24-17 loss at Rutgers (4-3, 1-3). It’s IU’s fifth straight defeat, and barring a shocking upset of either Penn State or Ohio State, Indiana will miss a bowl game for the second consecutive season.

The Hoosiers head into the bye week with a lot of questions. Some short-term, some big picture.

One of the widest-lens queries is simple: in which direction is the program heading?

After IU’s offense struggled in 2021, head coach Tom Allen fired offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan and hired Walt Bell.

In 2021, IU’s rushing offense was 113th in the country and 12th in the Big Ten at 114.17 yards per game. The passing offense was also 113th in the nation, but 11th in the conference, with 175.5 yards per game. That combination, unsurprisingly, didn’t translate to many points. Indiana ranked 123rd in FBS (out of 130 teams) and last in the Big Ten with 17.3 points per game last year.

Saturday’s game was one of the IU offense’s worst of the season. The Hoosiers scored season-low 10 points (not counting the kickoff return for a touchdown), and recorded just 272 yards — their second-lowest mark of the season.

After the loss to Rutgers, Indiana is 96th in the country and 11th in the Big Ten with 24.5 points per game. They are 128th (out of 131) in FBS and 14th in the Big Ten with 80 rush yards per game.

The Hoosiers do rank 44th in the country and fifth in the Big Ten with 265 passing yards per game after the Rutgers game. But that’s a byproduct of Bell’s emphasis on a fast pace and a heavy reliance on Connor Bazelak’s arm. IU is attempting the third-most passes per game in the country. The 5.6 yards per attempt is more telling, and IU is 121st in the country and second to last in the Big Ten there.

On the whole — total offense — Indiana ranked 124 out of 130 in the country last year, and last in the conference, at 289.7 yards per game. IU’s 4.25 yards per play was 127th in the country. After Saturday, Indiana was 106th in the country and 12th in the Big Ten with 345.6 yards per game. But that’s with an inefficient 4.51 yards per play, 124th in the country and 13th in the Big Ten.

Defensively, Indiana is around the same point it was last year. The Hoosiers replaced Charlton Warren at defensive coordinator with Chad Wilt in the offseason, and Allen took back defensive play-calling duties.

Indiana ranked 109th in the country in scoring defense in 2021 at 33.3 points per game allowed, this year IU is 99th in the nation at 30.6 points per game allowed. That mark was last in the Big Ten in 2021, and this year IU is currently 13th in the league.

IU is only allowing around seven more rushing yards per game this year (155) than it did last year after Rutgers was able to go for 192 Saturday. IU’s pass defense dropped from 235.7 yards per game (59th in the country, sixth in the Big Ten) to 259.4 (99th in the country, 11th in the conference).

In total defense, Indiana ranks 101 in the country and 12th in the Big Ten entering Saturday at 414.8 yards per game allowed. That’s a number that notably moved after Rutgers finished with 305 yards. And IU’s 5.54 yards per play allowed ranks much better — 55th in the country, 10th in the Big Ten.

Obviously, personnel changes from 2021 to 2022 impact how IU’s faring this year. But Indiana’s on-field issues are clear, and the numbers back it up. The offense has not performed well enough for Indiana to win football games.

Indiana’s recruiting class this year was good — ranked 25th in FBS and fifth in the Big Ten by 247Sports. Four-star freshman linebacker Dasan McCullough has been one of the best players on the team this season, junior college transfer Cam Camper has been one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten, and Jaylin Lucas has become one of IU’s most dynamic players. And when you factor in transfers, many players IU is relying on are new faces to the program.

IU’s previous two classes each placed in the mid-to-late 50s nationally and 12th in the conference. There’s still time and plenty of movement that could occur for the 2023 class, but as of Saturday, IU’s upcoming class is 76th in the country and last in the Big Ten.

For any coaching issues the Hoosiers have, whether obvious or subtle, there are talent gaps — compared to most of their Big Ten opponents — in some areas that coaching can only help so much.

So here’s an elephant in the room: can Indiana feel good about the direction it’s heading?

That’s unclear. The games dominated by sloppy play and self-inflicted mistakes aren’t exactly inspiring a fan base that sniffed success in 2019 and 2020. And those seasons seem increasingly further in the rearview mirror with each passing week.

Questions about Allen’s buyout have percolated through social media in recent weeks — and, per the Indianapolis Star, it would cost more than $20 million if Indiana made a move before December 1, 2024.

Allen fired offensive line coach Darren Hiller two weeks ago, after the Michigan game. Most of the offensive staff is in its first year with IU, so any further staff changes during the bye week — while never impossible — would be surprising.

But IU obviously needs to do something. Whether that’s replacing Bazelak at quarterback, changing certain strategies or practice regimens, or a number of other things. Indiana can’t continue doing the same thing it has so far this season and expect to win another game.

And depending on how long it takes to impact change, it could affect games beyond 2022.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”