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Indiana football’s offensive line improves but turnovers loom large in loss to Maryland

After last week’s disappointing performance, it seemed as if there was nowhere to go but up for Indiana football’s offensive line. With Rod Carey taking over for the fired Darren Hiller ahead of Saturday’s contest against Maryland, it marked a new chapter for a unit that had struggled mightily through the first six games of the 2022 season.

While the Hoosiers lost 38-33 to the Terrapins Saturday in Bloomington, it marked an improvement for the offensive line in an imperfect afternoon for the offense as a whole.

Head coach Tom Allen was impressed by the improvements he saw from the offensive line at-large following a tumultuous week for the position group due to Hiller’s mid-season dismissal.

“I thought they played solid,” Allen said after the game of the line. “I saw some improvement without question, they had a big, physical defensive line that has pressured people, and I thought they were better in pass protection. Definitely a positive step in the right direction.”

With pass protection, quarterback Connor Bazelak was sacked just two times in Saturday’s defeat, the fewest since allowing zero sacks in the Hoosiers’ week two win over Idaho. The signal caller was pleased with the offensive line’s performance, keeping him upright compared to last week’s seven sacks allowed against Michigan.

“I’m really proud of those guys,” Bazelak said after the game. “They just kept working. It’s tough, I can’t imagine having to switch position coach midweek and for those guys to be able to come out and play really well, protected well. We put in some stuff schematically to help them. I’m proud of those guys.”

With a cleaner pocket, Bazelak was able to complete 29-of-42 throws (69 percent) for 292 yards.

But it was far from a perfect evening for the men in the trenches, or the offense as a whole.

In the other facet of offensive line play, Indiana’s offensive staff emphasized the run game all week ahead of Saturday’s game.

Despite this increased emphasis, the Hoosiers rushed for just 36 yards on 32 carries on the afternoon, averaging 1.1 yards per attempt. Sack adjusted, Indiana was still at just 2.1 per carry.  While it did not result in a rejuvenated running game like the team had hoped, tight end Aaron Steinfeldt was proud of the improvements he saw the offensive line make.

“I’m proud of the O-Line, they worked their tails off this week,” Steinfeldt said. “We made an emphasis to run the ball a lot more, we go through the offensive tackles a lot, just get some of those combo blocks, just take the line of scrimmage. Overall, I’m proud of the line, I love Coach Carey, I love his enthusiasm.”

If the Hoosiers want to turn the season around after four consecutive losses and make a bowl game, however, the offensive line will not be the only offensive area that needs to see improvement.

On Saturday, a new problem emerged, and it was costly.  In total, the team turned the ball over three times, allowing Maryland 17 points off of those miscues.

Bazelak threw interceptions on Indiana’s first play from scrimmage in each of the halves, and wideout Andison Coby fumbled in Maryland territory late in the fourth quarter with IU down just four.

Ultimately, those three mistakes made the difference.

“Turn the ball over three times and not get any takeaways really was the difference in the game,” Allen said.  “We played good enough to win, but not in those areas.”

Headed into next week’s matchup against Rutgers and the back half of the schedule, the team is looking to clean up its play across the board, and not just in the trenches.

“Just do the little things,” Steinfeldt said. “We practice ball security every day, just go back to who we are. Turnovers suck, I know that, but if we just go back to being locked in, doing the little details right, we’ll be back in the win column.”

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