Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Before the Hoosiers take the field an announcement should be made that their games are not for the faint of heart. Indiana continued its trend of keeping things interesting right up until the final possession as they held on to win 31-24 over Wake Forest.
"It was a good win, but we made it hard at the end," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "It was nice to keep playing, get a little pressure and close it out. We made it harder than we needed to.”
Perfect execution? No. Perfect record? Yes. The last time the Hoosiers had a perfect record through four games was 1990, I was two years old. And as good as my memory was/is, I have no recollection of that team or that season, so this is uncharted territory for me.
Going into the season one of the team’s major objectives was to go undefeated in the out-of-conference portion of their schedule, and indeed they have.
"One of our goals this year was to be 4-0 coming into October, and we accomplished that today," senior bandit Zach Shaw said. "Everyone is excited, and it's a great feeling."
Now, let's take a closer look at what made this victory possible by diving into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly aspects of the game.
If you have been watching closely you would have noticed that the defense had improved incrementally during the first three weeks of the season. However, Saturday was a renaissance of sorts, at least during the first 50 minutes of the ballgame. Now, this does come with a slight caveat, as Wake Forest had a true freshman lining up at quarterback, but that does little to diminish many of their accomplishments.
It started early, by forcing Wake Forest into three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game. During the first 15 minutes they limited the Demon Deacons to just 47 net yards and 3 first downs and holding an opponent scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season.
The group’s third down defense was equally as impressive, holding Wake Forest to just 4 of 18 on third down attempts.
I mentioned in my “Numbers that Matter” piece on Friday that this was a game where the defense had a good shot of getting its pass rush on track, and boy did it ever. Entering the game the Hoosiers had gotten to the opposing quarterback just three times and on Saturday they brought down Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton six times, tripling their total for season in one afternoon.
And the fourth quarter pick six by Tony Fields was largely a product of the pass rush. With Mangieri and Latham bearing down on him, Hinton was forced to pass on the run, overthrowing his target, and Fields was able to pluck the pass from the sky and return it 20 yards for the score.
Speaking of Fields’ interception, the Hoosiers won the turnover battle for the fourth straight week. Those seven points were the difference in the outcome of the game, once again highlighting the importance of ball security and forcing your opponents into mistakes.
Oh, and the Hoosiers continued their third quarter excellence, holding their opponent scoreless during the period once again.
The offensive line continued its domination in the trenches, opening up holes for Jordan Howard and Devine Redding to run through and keeping quarterback Nate Sudfeld clean for pretty much the entire afternoon aside from a sack early in the game. This really comes as no surprise, leading into the season many knew that this would be one of the strengths of the team and they have lived up to that billing so far.
If former NBA great and ESPN commentator Mark Jackson had stumbled his way into BB&T Stadium yesterday, I can definitively say that he would have used his trademark phrase, ‘Mama, there goes that man!” That man I’m speaking of is junior running back Jordan Howard, who continues to impress game after game. During the overcast Saturday afternoon he carried the ball 33 times for 168 yards and one touchdown.
His runs of five, six, or seven yards have become such a commonplace that you almost don’t even think about it anymore. Running Backs Coach Deland McCullough brought an interesting statistic to the attention of the nation last night. Howard is the first player in the last 20 seasons with at least 140-plus rush yards in each of his first four games with a team.
Sudfeld also had a solid game for the Hoosiers, specifically during the first half when he threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 16 of 29 passing. Sophomore wide receiver Simmie Cobbs continues to develop into a consistent threat on the outside, making seven grabs for 75 yards and a touchdown. That’s his second receiving touchdown in as many weeks.
Offensive execution continues to be an issue at moments throughout the game. When the team has an opportunity to go up by multiple scores or step on their opponent’s throat, they fail to capitalize. Take for instance when the Hoosiers defense forced Wake Forest into three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game.
This was a perfect opportunity to seize control of the game and put even more pressure on Hinton and the Demon Deacons offense. But the Hoosiers only scored seven points during their first four possessions. Opportunities like that don’t come around very often, so making the most of them when they do is could be the difference between a win and a loss.
The Hoosiers came awfully close to playing a complete game, but alas, came up just short once again. With a 21 point lead and just 10 minutes left in the game, I, along with many others felt like the game was out of reach for a Demon Deacon’s offense that had done very little during the second half. However, Wake Forest did not agree.
The Hoosiers had mental lapses in all three phases during the final stretch of the game. After Wake Forest scored to bring it within 14, the Indiana offense could have put a nail in coffin of the Demon Deacons with a long drive and points of any kind. Unfortunately, an untimely holding penalty caused the drive to stall out, forcing the Hoosiers to punt the ball back to Wake Forest.
The defense put up very little resistance on the Deacons following possession, as they moved the ball 90 yards in just seven plays and 59 seconds for a seven more points. No surprise to any, Wake Forest attempted an onside kick, which they recovered with relative ease.
Wake Forest began driving again, but a fourth-down pass break up by Rashard Fant in the end zone was what sealed the outcome of the game, a ball that came far too close being caught.
And while I mentioned penalties briefly stalling out one of the Hoosiers drives, they also served to keep some of the Demon Deacons drives alive. On the day Indiana was hit with 11 penalties and 119 yards, not something you can afford to have happen during conference play.
Another week, another win, the Hoosiers continue to find ways to come out on top. These early season close games may keep you on the edge of your seat, but I do believe they go a long way in building character in a team that hasn't experienced a ton of success in the past. Now entering Big Ten play, the Hoosiers will have to take these lessons learned and apply them in games that will call for much crisper execution, as the margin for error will be that much smaller. But once again, enjoy this victory Hoosier fans and start your preparations for next weekend's big match up against the Buckeyes.