Indiana football got off to a fast start in Saturday’s game at Rutgers. Freshman running back Jaylin Lucas returned the game’s opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, while quarterback Connor Bazelak completed his first 10 passes and ran for a 7-yard touchdown to put IU ahead 14-0.
But after a red-hot first eight minutes, Indiana’s offense cratered back down to earth in spectacular fashion, surrendering the early two-touchdown lead in a 24-17 defeat to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights’ first Big Ten home win in more than three seasons.
Bazelak said that the pressure applied by Rutgers at the line of scrimmage made things difficult for Indiana’s offense after its first possession – a common trend throughout all of IU’s games this season.
“We obviously started the game with the big kickoff return, and we were able to move the ball down the field on the first possession and find the way in the end zone,” Bazelak said in a postgame radio interview. “Then from there, they really just started putting pressure on us, sending pressure and we weren’t able to execute.”
After giving up a touchdown on Indiana’s first drive, Rutgers made the same bet everyone has against IU this year. Put the defensive backs up at the line and scrimmage and play tight, physical coverage. Like a broken record, the pass rush gets home before the receivers can get separation.
And matters only get worse when leading wideout Cam Camper went down with a second quarter injury after catching five balls for 43 yards.
“We can’t just lose one guy, and everything else falls apart,” head coach Tom Allen said in reference to Camper’s injury.
For Bazelak, it was more than just the Rutgers defense causing problems for the Hoosiers.
Indiana’s offense got in its own way after the first quarter, according to Bazelak, who threw a game-sealing interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The unit went three-and-out on its first three drives of the second half, and were out-gained 262 yards to 129 in the final three quarters.
“Once we get a first down, not many teams can stop us, unless it’s ourselves,” Bazelak said. “We kind of beat ourselves again today, just not executing.”
Allen saw things similarly to his quarterback from the sidelines in the defeat, noting that the offense’s inability to sustain a drive for more than three plays for much of the second half hurt the defense as well, keeping them on the field for most of the third quarter.
IU’s third quarter offense was abysmal. The Hoosiers totaled negative two yards on six plays from scrimmage, holding the ball for a measly one minute and 15 seconds. In the same period, Rutgers gained 97 yards on 26 plays in 13 minutes and 29 seconds of game time, storming back to take a lead that they would not relinquish.
“The third quarter was tough, not being able to get anything generated on offense,” Allen said in a postgame radio interview. “It put a ton of pressure on our D.”
It was the fourth straight disastrous second half for IU. They’ve been outscored 76-19 in those contests after the break, with 16 of the 19 coming last weekend against Maryland.
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