After returning just two starters from a year ago, Indiana’s defense is giving up just 14.7 points per game through the first quarter of the season, including just 22 a game to the national top-tier offenses of Louisville and Ohio State.
Sure there have been hiccups along the way, but in the aggregate it has been an impressive transition under the direction of head coach Tom Allen and his co-defensive coordinators Matt Guerrieri and Chad Wilt.
But still, Indiana is 0-2 in games against those FBS opponents.
And you can go on and on with the things that seem better about IU football right now, despite their record not showing it.
Let’s start big picture — Indiana has had a long stretch of good fortune, or an improved approach to strength and conditioning if you prefer, or both, when it comes to staying healthy. That run has held up from spring practice, to fall camp and through the first three weeks of the season. But still IU is 1-2 with their lone win coming against FCS-level Indiana State.
And really, when is the last time you saw Indiana rally from a 21-point halftime deficit against a good team like they did on Saturday? They were literally a few feet from tying that game, with vastly improved play on both sides of the ball in the second half against Louisville. And yet they lost.
The offensive line is showing clear improvement, allowing just two sacks through three games after giving up more than three a game a year ago. But it isn’t translating to wins.
The Hoosiers have a positive turnover margin in their two FBS games, but they’re still 0-2 in those contests.
The defense has several impressive playmakers, some the casual fans are still learning about like Andre Carter, Lanell Carr, Marcus Burris, Louis Moore and Jacob Mangum-Farrar — along with an All-Big Ten start to the season from veteran Aaron Casey. But there’s been just enough bend, and some breaks by the defense to at least contribute to the 1-2 start, even if they aren’t the main issue at the moment.
Each of IU’s main three running backs are averaging over 4.0 yards per carry, but yeah, you know about the record.
Indiana truly is finding ways to get the ball in the hands of their dynamic All-American playmaker Jaylin Lucas. He has 29 carries for 141 yards and two scores, to go with 15 receptions for 138 yards and another score. But you know the only results that matter.
The offense is averaging just 8.5 points per game against FBS foes, but they obviously conducted a quarterback competition through the first two weeks of the season. So it is reasonable to judge that side of the ball with more weight on what they’ve done for you lately.
And the Hoosiers appear to have a quarterback. In his first game as the full-time starter, Tayven Jackson went 24-of-34 (70.6 percent) for 299 yards against a respectable opponent. Some of the improvement in not allowing sacks goes to Jackson, whose pocket presence is dramatically better than what IU had in Connor Bazelak for most of 2022. Jackson’s ability to sidestep a rusher and not just escape but actually keep a play alive, stay poised, and make the proper downfield reads is highly encouraging.
If there are things that are different about this Indiana team vs. the last two years, clearly Jackson is one of them. But IU has to turn him loose. Game circumstances were a factor in the second half on Saturday vs. Louisville, and Jackson also seemed to grow more comfortable as things progressed. But IU’s play-calling changed too, transitioning from two backs and two wide receivers, to four wide receivers and a faster tempo. Jackson said after the game he was more comfortable in the second half approach, and it showed, with most of his production coming after the break. It seems to make a lot of sense right now to open up the offense, play fast, and let IU’s skill position players do their thing.
Sure, there’s some inflation in IU’s three game stats because of the Indiana State game. But if you only give up 23 points to Ohio State and 21 to Louisville — those are games you have to win. The defense more than did its job in those games, and alone they’ve been good enough for IU to be 3-0. But of course they are not.
Indiana appears to have the components to win some of these more challenging FBS games, and there are plenty more on the schedule. And if you’re feeling generous, you can give IU the benefit of the doubt due to the early uncertainty at quarterback.
All is not lost three weeks into the season.
Indiana will move to 2-2 after this weekend’s home game against Akron. We all know that. Those were the two wins even the most pessimistic fans would say the Hoosiers would claim.
But from there the schedule turns into a nightmare.
And while measurably improved in many ways, Indiana hasn’t shown yet that they can flip a now two-year old script.
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