During the offseason, Indiana football head coach Tom Allen said that he had conversations with offensive line coach Darren Hiller about what he wanted to see improved following an underwhelming season for the position in 2021.
He felt like he had seen a response from Hiller and the group.
Six games into the 2022 season, Allen’s tune has changed significantly.
“Not the last three weeks. Not last week. Not this week,” Allen said when asked if he had seen a response from the offensive line following Indiana’s 31-10 loss to Michigan Saturday. “Very disappointed.”
All year long, a lack of protection and time to throw for quarterback Connor Bazelak and inability to create running lanes have marred Indiana’s season. In Indiana’s loss Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, offensive line play cratered to a season-long low.
In the loss, Bazelak was sacked seven times for a loss of 61 yards. On the FOX telecast it was reported Bazelak was pressured 22 times. Not including sacks, the team rushed for just 80 yards on 18 carries, an average of 2.25 yards per carry.
While noticeable all afternoon long, IU’s offensive line struggles were perhaps most apparent in the fourth quarter of the game.
Just over a minute into the final period, the Hoosiers trailed 17-10 with the ball and a chance to tie the game. On first and second down, Bazelak threw a pair of incompletions on short passes – due in part to a heavy presence of maize and blue clad defenders in the backfield. On the ensuing third down, he was sacked for a loss of nine yards.
The first drive of the fourth quarter was not the only in which Indiana failed to move the football. In the second half, the Hoosiers were held to just 29 yards and zero points.
For Allen, the failure to move the football comes down to offensive line play. After the game he vowed to look “really hard” at the group and what is causing them to be so ineffective.
Bazelak refused to be critical of his offensive linemen, unlike Allen, saying that the offensive line is “working hard every single day” – but the quarterback still noticed things change just as much as his head coach did between halves.
In the first half, Indiana relied on short, quick passes, notably to running backs Josh Henderson and Jaylin Lucas, to pick up chunk yardage and move the ball down the field. In the second half, as protection worsened, Indiana did not utilize the passing concepts that it relied upon early in the contest.
Bazelak did not credit this change in strategy to offensive line play, however, instead noting that Michigan changed its defensive backs personnel. The Wolverines switched from matching three wide receivers with two cornerbacks and a single-high safety to three players on the line of scrimmage, making it more difficult to throw screens and short passes.
“They were covering down on the screen on the shorter throws, and those throws are pretty much an extension of the run game,” Bazelak said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball more, and in the second half, they were covering us down more on that.”
Michigan was likely comfortable with that approach because it knew its pass rush would get home before its corners could be beat in tight coverage.
As much as Indiana’s blocking has struggled in both the pass and run game all season long, the Hoosier offense is standing up for each other in tough times – but unity alone may not be enough to hold off Big Ten defensive lines and salvage Indiana’s season.
“I still trust them,” wide receiver Emery Simmons said of his offensive line. “We’re a team at the end of the day. There’s no down talking, you can’t point fingers. It’s a team loss.”
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