At 2-1 on the still young 2019 season, the Indiana football team is right where most thought they would be going into program’s 135th campaign.
When it comes to the wins and losses, there haven’t been any surprises. What choppy start, right?
But when you start to peel back the layers, there are several particulars that don’t meet the preseason expectations. And when coupled with a crushing 51-10 loss to Ohio State in what has recently been a much more competitive series, the cause for concern here feels legitimate.
Exhibit A is the running game, and in particular Indiana’s inability to get anything going for preseason Doak Walker Award watch list running back Stevie Scott.
In 2018 Scott shattered Indiana true freshman records with 1,137 yards and 10 touchdowns. The New York native averaged 5.0 yards per carry last year and appeared to be on his way to even bigger and better things in year two.
Instead, Scott has just 118 rushing yards in IU’s first three games, and perhaps more concerning, he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
With Ronnie Walker, Cole Gest and Sampson James joining Scott in the backfield this year, many believed that running back might be the deepest and most talented position on the team.
Before the season we wondered how the coaching staff could keep the four backs happy. Now that answer seems clear — open some running lanes.
Indiana head coach Tom Allen discussed the early season shortcomings in the running game at his regular media availability on Monday.
“I think it’s physicality at the point of attack for the whole group, not necessarily every single person but as a whole group,” Allen said. “Bottom line is that, yeah, I think physicality, execution of our assignments has got to continue and we just still need to find creative ways to take the pressure off.”
The point of attack does appear to be the issue. This doesn’t look like a situation where Scott’s effort should be called into question. With so much talent behind him, Scott wouldn’t see the field if that were the case.
Instead, the early struggles are about a lack of holes to run through. Indiana is getting beat at the line of scrimmage, and a big bruising back like Scott hasn’t been able to get going downhill where he becomes much more of a weapon.
The result is the No. 117 (out of 130) rushing attack in the country through three games.
Beyond just not gaining yards, Indiana hasn’t done a good job of staying dedicated to the run and trying to wear down the opposition either.
That’s something that could be changing in the coming weeks.
“Sometimes it’s just about a matter of just being able to schematically and decision making wise just to be able to run the football more,” Allen said. “Stevie had six carries (against Ohio State). And so just to be able to get him more opportunities.”
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer believes that the lack of dedication to the running game is hurting the Hoosiers when it comes to sustaining drives.
“We need to improve the running game to give ourselves better opportunities, more manageable situations on third down,” DeBoer said. “That’s really what it comes down to — staying on the football field.”
Allen echoed those sentiments.
“I think we had nine third and longs (against Ohio State), which make it’s really, really difficult to convert,” Allen said. “So run the football on first and second down and even having the threat of it on third does make a difference.”
So far Indiana has thrown the ball 118 times while attempting 98 runs. Those numbers are deceiving because they include passing plays that turned into quarterback runs. They also don’t take into account the fact that IU’s last two games were blowouts that led to more rushing attempts late.
More telling is the yardage discrepancy, where IU has gained 984 yards passing and just 304 rushing.
Hired in January from the same job at Fresno State, DeBoer appears to still be in the process of melding his approach with this IU roster.
“We certainly are addressing the run game,” DeBoer said. “I believe in our guys that we can get it done. We’ve gotta find our style, our niche, what fits us, and how it all pulls together with the rest of the offense.”
IU DEFENSE NOT GENERATING TAKEAWAYS
The early season surprises and shortcomings are not limited to the Hoosier offense.
IU saw its nation’s best 19 game takeaway streak end in week two against Eastern Illinois — and only a fourth quarter Ohio State fumble when its starters were out of the game prevented a two game streak going the other way.
Tom Allen’s defense is predicated on pressure and takeaways, and right now he isn’t getting enough of either.
“It’s not good enough, it’s not our standard,” Allen said. “Not happy at all and we got to get it fixed. So you just keep fighting and you just keep working and you just keep focusing on technique and doing things the right way — and I do think they come in bunches and they will, but two (takeaways) is not enough, not to our standard.”
DeBoer isn’t the only new coordinator in Bloomington, and thus far first year defensive coordinator Kane Wommack recognizes that a lack of timely takeaways has represented a missed opportunity. IU has generated just two takeaways in three games, with both coming late when the outcome was decided.
“It (takeaways) changes the games,” Wommack said. “It changes the outcome of football games when you can get takeaways, especially against good teams like Ohio State.”
Takeaways change the games, and change is exactly what Wommack is looking from his defense.
“You have to decide that enough is enough,” Wommack said repeatedly on Monday with regard to how his defense needs to handle adversity going forward.
In many respects, however, the early story of the 2019 season centers on what there hasn’t been enough of.
And when it comes to the running game and takeaways, enough isn’t enough.
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