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First half struggles leave Hoosiers frustrated in victory over Idaho

The Hoosiers knew they needed to play better.

That much was evident at halftime on Saturday night. Indiana struggled through the first half against Idaho, leaving points on the table and making far too many mistakes. And the Vandals took a 10-0 lead into the break.

The team cut to the chase in the locker room. Tom Allen and his staff told the players they had to execute better, and IU’s veterans spoke up as well.

“Our leaders, like (Cam Jones) and Noah Pierre, they got on the whole team about it,” Donaven McCulley said. “We shouldn’t be down like that at half. No disrespect to Idaho, but we shouldn’t be down like that. That’s not the team we are. So our leaders just made us step up and just addressed the whole team, and we just came out and won the game.”

Indeed, Indiana turned things around in the third quarter, scoring 23 unanswered points to surge into the lead. IU held that lead through a wild fourth quarter, with a few big plays by Idaho leading to two touchdowns, alternating scores with IU.

But the 35-22 victory didn’t erase the 60 minutes that led to it. The Hoosiers needed to play better — and it was still evident even after the game.

“We won, so that’s a positive thing, but obviously, didn’t start the right way. Poor first half, especially on offense,” Allen said. “Frustrated with how we finished on defense. Just a very frustrating night, but found a way to win the game.”

Sure, the weather was a factor in IU’s sluggish start. The sky opened about 90 minutes before the scheduled kickoff time, and the severe weather delayed the game 35 minutes. The teams played through a complete downpour in the first half, creating challenges for the passing game.

Connor Bazelak acknowledged that the ball was slick during the first half. And it made a noticeable impact: Bazelak went 6 for 17 in the first half for 49 yards with an interception. He frequently lacked control on throws early in the game.

But he and IU wouldn’t use the weather as an excuse. After all, Idaho had to play in the same conditions.

“You have to learn to deal with the weather,” Allen said. “Tried to have a rain practice. We knew rain was coming and got some sprinkles. We did the wet ball drills with our guys, trying to get ready for that.”

The rain mostly stopped in the second half, which helped IU turn things around. The Hoosiers got a three-and-out on the first defensive series, and then scored a touchdown on the next drive. IU hit paydirt on three straight possessions to open the second half, with additional points from a safety mixed in.

Bazelak was much better in the second half, going 10 for 12 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He developed a rhythm that he couldn’t find in the first half, and said the three completions on IU’s first scoring drive were important for him in settling in.

“I think that’s huge,” Bazelak said. “Even if it’s just a screen or something, just seeing the ball caught by the receiver, it’s kind of huge for my mental outlook.”

The Hoosiers moved to 2-0 with the win, but they weren’t in an overly celebratory mood about it.

Yes, they took time to appreciate the victory, which Allen said he doesn’t take for granted in the minefield of college football.

But he, his staff, and his players know this wasn’t their best performance. And they know they may not be able to get away with that as the schedule gets more challenging.

“We sang the fight song and do what we do after a win, but this is not the standard we have to play to be able to be where we want to be as a football team,” Allen said. “We’ll take the win, but we’re going to take what comes along with poor play, which is accountability. That’s on me.”

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