Indiana’s offense finally ended its first quarter slump against Michigan. But with one streak broken, another troubling one has emerged.
For the first time all season, the Hoosiers scored a touchdown in the opening 15 minutes. But for the second game in a row, IU did not score in the second half and could not move the ball in the fourth quarter.
Against Nebraska in Lincoln last week, IU finished with five yards of offense in the final quarter. It somehow got worse on Saturday, albeit against one of the top teams in the country. Indiana recorded -12 yards of offense in the fourth quarter against No. 4 Michigan, who pulled away with a 31-10 victory.
Senior wide receiver Emery Simmons said the offense has played well in fourth quarters earlier in the season, so it’s not as if that problem can’t be solved. But the offense has to put together a complete four-quarter game.
“It’s not about coming out strong in the first (quarter) or playing strong in the fourth. It’s now, come out strong in the first; play strong in the second going into halftime; come out in the third quarter and hit them in the mouth; fourth quarter, finish,” Simmons said. “That’s it. That’s all you’ve got to do now.”
Indiana (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) had its short passing game working well in the first half. It was not just check-downs, but designed screen plays and shorter routes that chipped away at Michigan (6-0, 3-0). Indiana’s fast tempo caused the Wolverines’ defense some real problems.
But the pace was less effective in the second half, as Michigan’s defensive depth showed through. Indiana’s offensive line struggles accounted for some of the issues, as redshirt junior quarterback Connor Bazelak was under duress for much of the game. Michigan racked up seven sacks throughout the game, with four in the second half. UM added four QB hurries all game, with one in the second half.
IU head coach Tom Allen said the problems start with the offensive line.
“Obviously, it starts up front,” Allen said. “(We’ve) got to protect. (We’re) not getting the job done there, and (we’ve) got to look at that really hard.”
The Wolverines also made some adjustments to take away the shorter pass plays that IU leaned on in the first half. Bazelak indicated Michigan guarded the flats more attentively after halftime, and used some different coverage looks to throw those plays off.
Michigan’s coverage, as a whole, was tough for Bazelak to pick up on at times.
“They do so much coverage in the back end that you don’t really know what they’re going to play,” Bazelak said. “We were getting a lot of man (coverage), so we expected a lot of man, and had some (plays to beat man coverage) that we called in the second half. And we just couldn’t get them off. I couldn’t get the ball out of my hands soon enough.”
Consistency has been the biggest issue for Indiana this season. The Hoosiers just have not yet been able to put together clean game in all facets. But that problem is most noticeable and most pronounced for IU’s offense.
The blocking has been a persistent issue, and they’ve repeated some other mistakes in multiple games. But there have been a lot of different things pop up in each game that serve as the catalyst for why IU’s offense struggled at certain points.
And with an overall consistency issue, there’s no quick fix. Various offensive pitfalls in one week can look different than it will the next. Allen said the staff will go through and evaluate things at every position, and that everyone has to be accountable for their performance.
But it also falls on in-game adjustments, game-plans, and coaching at large. And Allen said his offensive staff needs to get those things straightened out.
“Proof is in the pudding: we haven’t scored points in the second half. It is what it is. You can call it what you want,” Allen said. “The adjustments have to be made in a way that allows us to be successful in the second half. That hasn’t happened the last two weeks. That’s something that we have to address, and that’s on our offensive staff. That’s their responsibility. At the end of the day, I’m the head coach, so I have to make sure it happens.”
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