Throughout Indiana football’s bye week, much of the attention has been on the offense.
The Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) relieved offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Walt Bell of his duties on Sunday, after a dismal performance at Maryland highlighted the plethora of issues with IU’s offense. Rod Carey is taking over the position on a permanent basis.
But IU’s frustrating season thus far is not only an offensive issue. Indiana’s defense — the team’s calling card earlier in the Tom Allen era — has struggled mightily after a good start to the year.
In the season-opener, the Hoosiers held Ohio State to 23 points — the fewest OSU has scored against IU in 30 years. Along with holding the Buckeyes to 380 yards of total offense, it was an encouraging performance. The defense took care of Indiana State as expected the next week.
Things started to change in week 3 against Louisville. The Hoosiers gave up a lot of big plays in the first half that saw the Cardinals jump out to a 21-0 lead. IU had trouble against both the run and the pass. But the defense, buoyed by Indiana’s surprise onside kick recovery and ensuing touchdown, turned it around in the second half and shut out Louisville the rest of the way. The team still lost that game, but IU’s defense played just the one bad half through the first three weeks.
But the last two games have underscored some real problems within Indiana’s defense. The unit gave up 474 yards of offense to Akron, which ranks in the bottom 10 in the country in total offense. And then the Hoosiers allowed 472 yards to Maryland. The Terps, unlike the Zips, are a potent offense, but IU made things easy for them.
Along with Louisville’s 422 yards, that was the fourth time in Allen’s tenure as IU head coach that the defense allowed at least 400 yards of total offense in at least three straight games. It’s just been a comprehensive drop-off across the entire defense.
The pass rush has largely evaporated — IU didn’t record any sacks or QB hurries against Taulia Tagovailoa last week. The run defense up front has given up crooked numbers. And the secondary has gotten obliterated over the last several weeks.
One of Indiana’s biggest problems has been the big play. The Hoosiers have been as susceptible as any team in the Big Ten to allowing the sorts of large, chunk gains that can decide games. IU has allowed the third-most plays of at least 20 yards in the Big Ten (20) and is tied for the third-most plays of at least 30 yards (nine).
And IU has given up more plays of at least 40 yards (six), 60 yards (three), and 70 yards (two) than anyone else in the Big Ten.
Breakdowns in the secondary have been responsible for a lot of that damage. IU’s secondary features a lot of youth and first-year starters, and it’s turned into a rough stretch for that group. Blown coverages and miscommunications have left far too many opposing receivers open. The struggles against Louisville’s Jamari Thrash were the most significant, given how close that game was, but IU allowed Maryland receivers Tai Felton and Jeshaun Jones to each rack up over 100 receiving yards buoyed by big plays.
Co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri drew early praise for his defense’s solid play and the way he adjusted to various things during games. The unit’s recent troubles go beyond him — the players need to perform better. But the calls he made early in the season that worked have clearly not been working to the same degree.
He and the Hoosiers have to figure things out quickly. No. 2 Michigan awaits on October 14, with one of the better offenses in the Big Ten and a defense that leaves little margin for error. And if the issues persist beyond the bye week, things could begin to spiral out of control.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”