With Indiana up seven early in the second quarter, Donaven McCulley handed off to Davion Ervin-Poindexter on 3rd and 5 from the IU 27. The play gained a yard, Indiana was forced to punt, and Minnesota scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Later in the second quarter, with the game tied at seven, McCulley ran on a read option on 3rd and 10 from the IU 25. That play went for no yards, Indiana was forced to punt, and Minnesota scored another touchdown on that ensuing drive too.
Indiana’s 7-0 early second quarter lead had turned into a 14-7 Minnesota advantage, and the Hoosiers would never threaten again.
Head coach Tom Allen was asked last week whether he might consider midseason changes to his coaching staff. He said he won’t. Those decisions will be made after next weekend’s season finale at Purdue.
But on Saturday night, after his team’s seventh straight loss fueled by yet another disappointing effort by the offense, it was clear where his frustrations lie.
“There’s no doubt, third and longs are hard,” Allen said, referring specifically to putting the true freshman McCulley in those situations. “So that’s not ideal. I get that. Those are tough situations. Schematically, you do different things defensively. You usually do a lot of exotic pressures and different things, disguise-wise, coverage-wise. So it’s hard — it puts more pressure on a young quarterback to figure those things out. And so you try to eliminate those.
“And that’s where I felt that — but you still got to throw the football. That’s — I get it. You run the ball with him and he can run the ball. That’s great. But it says dual threat. Okay? Dual means you do both. Right? So if you’re not dual, then you’re just one dimensional. All right.
“So, to me, that’s why that word is what it is. So to me, that is definitely his strength is to be able to run the football, but you’ve got to be able to throw it as well. So to me, I think you can’t shy away from that. You’ve got to be able to do it and obviously do it in an efficient way and not put him in harm’s way. But you can’t make it to where you just cautiously play the game and call the game.”
Allen’s comments could easily be interpreted as a criticism of McCulley, and to an extent they were. Allen said he instructed his young quarterback to throw it more during sideline conversations.
But that McCulley was able to complete a first half with just three pass attempts was clearly about more than just a quarterback reading run rather than pass too often. And it isn’t likely that he is going to be that publicly critical of an 18-year-old who wasn’t supposed to play this year.
Instead Allen seems to be right back where he was three years ago when his struggling offense last kept the Hoosiers out of the postseason. Not long after that season ended Allen decided to part ways with then offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.
Now Allen appears to have a decision to make with current OC Nick Sheridan, who interestingly enough only ended up at IU because DeBord brought him along.
Sheridan’s offense currently ranks No. 121 nationally out of 130 teams in terms of total yards per game. Last year, Sheridan’s first as OC, wasn’t much better as the Hoosiers finished No. 94. On the other hand, an argument could be made that Sheridan was dealt a bad hand as he tries to patch together a game plan with the third string quarterback who wasn’t ready to play this year, fourth string and beyond running backs, and without his top playmaker at wide receiver.
It isn’t clear what Allen will do after the season but it is clear that something needs to change.
That could mean an overhaul of the scheme, which has been too conservative all season, not just Saturday.
Perhaps it could mean the replacement of offensive line coach Darren Hiller. After all that unit is at the core of much of what ails this team.
Or maybe Indiana will hire what would be a fourth offensive coordinator in five years.
Allen’s Saturday night comments suggested Sheridan might not be on solid ground.
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