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Slow starts are a real problem for IU’s offense through four weeks

Through the first quarter of the season, one of Indiana’s biggest weaknesses has been early offensive struggles.

The Hoosiers have had a lot of trouble getting their offense rolling early in games. They’ve scored nine total points in its four opening quarters of games this year. That ranks last among Big Ten teams.

IU is trying to figure out what’s happened and how to fix it.

“It seems like every time we start a game, we always start off slow, then we start to pick it up in the second half. I just feel like it’s just consistency,” running back Shaun Shivers said. “Playing a good team like Cincinnati at their home turf, and trying to play from behind, I know it’s going to be pretty tough. I think we’ve got to be more consistent and just get rolling faster (like) we do in the second half.”

There aren’t clear, consistent issues plaguing IU early in games. It’s been a little of everything. The Hoosiers did score on their opening possession of the season against Illinois, but that drive stalled after a negative-yardage run knocked them out of the red zone. They had to settle for a field goal. IU had to punt on the next series.

After an opening three-and-out against Idaho, Indiana moved the ball well on its next two first-quarter possessions in that game. But Charles Campbell missed a 32-yard field goal on the first, and Shaun Shivers came up short on a 4th and goal run from the 1 yard line.

IU had three possessions in the first quarter against Western Kentucky. On the first, Campbell hit a field goal after another drive stalled in the red zone. IU then turned it over on downs on a 4th and 2 run that went nowhere. The final drive saw IU flip the field position after a long Connor Bazelak completion to Donaven McCulley, but the Hilltoppers forced a punt after that.

The opening drive in Cincinnati moved into Bearcats territory, on the edge of field goal range, but two straight negative plays brought the punt unit on. The Hoosiers then went three-and-out again, before stringing a lengthy drive that they couldn’t finish inside the Cincinnati 10 and settling for three points.

“Whether it be execution, details, right play but wrong look, losing on an individual assignment, whatever it may be, we’ve had every ill of football early in the game,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “That’s on me, that’s on our coaching staff, it’s on our players, it’s on everybody.”

Bazelak feels it’s all about the little details. He pointed out that the offense has been moving the ball well early, which is true — just two three-and-outs out of 11 possessions is not bad.

But IU is having trouble finishing those drives off, and too often, one bad play is bleeding into the next and derailing momentum.

Allen has mentioned tweaking some practice routines to try and spark a faster start in games. But aside from that, it may just come down to the offense locking in earlier, playing with more consistency, and bouncing back from any missteps.

“A couple missed little, small details (can) turn a one or two-yard run into a 10-yard run and it being 4th and inches, 4th and 1, where we have an opportunity to go for it,” Bazelak said. “I think just really focusing in early in the game, knowing that we’ve got to start strong, and definitely would put a lot less pressure on us, not being down.”

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