Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
It wasn't perfect and it times it wasn't pretty, but if you didn't feel better about this Hoosiers team after their effort against the Panther's on Saturday as opposed to last week's struggle against the Salukis, then I'm not sure what to tell you. Statistically the teams were pretty even. The Hoosiers picked up 25 first downs, the Panthers 24. Indiana averaged 5.2 yards a play, the Panthers with just slightly less at 5.1 yards per play. Both teams were 7-18 on third down, and while a little discouraging for the offense, it was a marked improvement for the defense. But let's go a little deeper and look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First things first, the Hoosiers beat a strong Florida International squad to move to 2-0 on the season, the first time that has happened since 2012 and only the second time during Wilson's tenure. Like I said, at times it wasn't pretty, but this team did exactly what it needed to do to pull-out a victory over an opponent that many of us had circled on the schedule as a must win if this program was going to play a game in late December.
After allowing Southern Illinois to convert on 11 of 17 third down attempts, the defense battled back this week and held the Panthers to just 7 of 18 on third down. Everyone had been saying all week that this defense needed to do a better job of getting their opponents off the field when they had the opportunity to and they clearly took that to heart. They also stopped the Panthers on two of their three fourth down attempts, another encouraging sign that when their back is against the wall, the defense is going to make plays.
For the second straight week the Hoosiers were plus-two in turnover margin. The defense was able to force three turnovers on the evening and the team was able to put 20 points on the board as a result, clearly the difference in the game. Both Nick Mangieri and Marcus Oliver recovered fumbles for the Hoosiers and true freshman defensive back Jameel Cook intercepted a pass deep in Hoosier territory and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown, the final nail in the coffin.
The play of the secondary as a whole was also notably better than what it was last week. Sophomore Rashard Fant led the squad with four pass breakups, making play after play on the ball to stall the Panthers' drives down the field. The big guys upfront were also more disruptive, posting two sacks, two tackles-for-loss, and three passes batted down, two by Ralph Green who was back for his first game this season.
Also, in back-to-back games the defense held its opponent scoreless in the third quarter, a sign that this staff is making the appropriate adjustments at halftime.
The Hoosiers offensive performance was not short on positives either. Jordan Howard was his usual, efficient self, carrying the ball 27 times for 159 yards, an average of 5.9 yards per carry. He continues to churn out the tough yards in between the tackles, showing great balance and an ability to fight through arm tackles in the process. Although he's yet to break off a long one for a score, you have the feeling it could happen anytime.
And while senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld was probably disappointed that he threw an interception, his passes found the mitts of eight different targets on the night. Even more encouraging was the involvement of the tight-ends in the passing game, especially Michael Cooper who made three catches for 66 yards. Wide Receiver Mitchell Paige also had a memorable evening, scoring his first ever collegiate touchdown, the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the performance of the Hoosiers special teams. Senior punter Eric Toth averaged 43.2 yards on four punts, and the coverage team just gave up 17 yards on three returns. Kick-off coverage was even better. When kicker Griffin Oakes didn't sail the kickoff deep into the end-zone forcing a touchback, the team allowed just a paltry 44 yards on three returns. The kick-off return game was also greatly improved, as Devonte Williams averaged 24 yards on three kick returns.
As many great things as you can say about the defense last night, there were still those same recurring themes that popped up at inopportune times during the game. Wrapping up and finishing a tackle is and continues to be one of biggest issues for this team. During the second quarter two missed tackles by young Indiana defenders resulted in a 75 yard touchdown reception.
Another downside to playing such young players in the secondary is that they are still adjusting to the quick pace of the collegiate game. It takes some time to learn to not only to cover your man, but also locate the ball and make a play on it. This will not happen overnight, however, all things considered, their effort was vastly improved from last week.
Play-calling also came into question at differing points throughout the game, on both offense and defense. It's not necessary to go in great detail, however there were a couple of times on defense that the Hoosiers showed blitz, the Panthers clearly audibled at the line, yet Indiana still brought the heat from the exact spot where everyone was expecting it. Also, a couple of calls on offense on third down were a little less than inspired, however, I digress, for the most part the Hoosiers had a great game plan and executed it quite well throughout.
I definitely appreciate the fact that the Hoosiers defense was playing more aggressively, attempting to make plays on the ball and being more disruptive in the backfield, but 11 penalties for 110 yards is pretty hard to stomach. And while the penalties didn't affect the outcome of this game, this is not a habit we want to see carried over into games where the margin of error is much smaller. Wilson did point out that his team's in the past have very rarely been plagued by penalties, so it will be interesting to see how the team settles between being more aggressive and avoiding costly penalties.
Last night's effort was far from perfect, but based on the reactions of fans, there is much more optimism surrounding the potential of this squad than there was just a week ago. The sky isn't falling, at least not at the moment. There are still plenty of things to cleanup heading into next week's matchup against the Hilltoppers, but for now, enjoy this 2-0 start.
|Passing YDS (NET)||283||234|
|TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS||80-406||85-439|
|Qtr||Time||Scoring Play||V - H|
|1st||03:37||FIU - OWENS, Thomas 21 yd pass from McGOUGH, Alex (TAYLOR, Austin kick), 11-69 4:29||7 - 0|
|2nd||14:55||IND - OAKES, Griffin 35 yd field goal, 11-56 3:42||7 - 3|
|09:11||IND - OAKES, Griffin 27 yd field goal, 9-72 3:55||7 - 6|
|09:00||FIU - OWENS, Thomas 21 yd pass from McGOUGH, Alex (TAYLOR, Austin kick), 1-75 0:11||14 - 6|
|04:54||IND - SUDFELD, Nate 5 yd run (OAKES, Griffin kick), 11-68 4:06||14 - 13|
|3rd||05:49||IND - SUDFELD, Nate 1 yd run (OAKES, Griffin kick failed), 4-20 1:17||14 - 19|
|4th||14:06||FIU - TURNER, Dennis 28 yd pass from McGOUGH, Alex TURNER (GARDNER, Alex rush attempt good), 10-91 2:51||22 - 19|
|11:02||IND - OAKES, Griffin 40 yd field goal, 9-61 3:04||22 - 22|
|10:02||IND - PAIGE, Mitchell 16 yd PASS from SUDFELD, Nate (OAKES, Griffin kick), 1-16 0:07||29 - 22|
|03:58||IND - COOK, Jameel 96 yd INT (OAKES, Griffin kick),||36 - 22|