Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
I’ll be honest, this is a very difficult article to write. The easy way out would be to write that Indiana led Rutgers by 25 points late in the third quarter. Rutgers scored 28 unanswered points to storm back and win, 55-52. Prior to the comeback, teams were 0-121 this season when trailing by 25 or more points. That’s right, 0-121. It’s hard to get past that depressing factoid and focus on anything else from this game but we owe you, loyal reader, coverage in the good times and in the frustrating/angry/mind-bogglingly bad times.
-Nate Sudfeld- I am aware that Nate Sudfeld made two very bad decisions that proved to be rather costly for the Hoosiers. Overall though, Nate had a tremendous day in his first game back since his ankle injury. He kept multiple plays alive with his feet, threw the ball accurately (32-42) and was accountable for 464 yards (2nd most in IU history) and five touchdowns (four passing and one rushing). Sudfeld made a couple of errors but it would be foolish to pin this loss on him.
-Big Numbers from Offensive Playmakers- Indiana had three receivers that gained more than 100 yards (Mitchell Paige, Simmie Cobbs and Ricky Jones) and two running backs (Devine Redding and Mike Majette) that averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry. Numbers like that should be more than good enough to bring home a victory. In total, IU ran for 163 yards and gained 627 yards of total offense. The vast majority of this explosive offense came in the first three quarters as the Hoosiers appeared on pace to shatter multiple school records for offense. However, as we know, things changed drastically in the final frame.
-The Emergence of Mike Majette- Mike Majette is a true freshman that arrived on a campus with an uncertain role. He began the season by working at wide receiver but the injuries to Jordan Howard and Ricky Brookins caused the IU coaches to move Majette to running back. He received a few carries late in the Penn State game but burst onto the scene on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Majette ran the ball 11 times for 83 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and caught three passes for 33 yards with a touchdown. Majette displayed an ability to accelerate to top speed quickly and good vision with the ball in his hands. Once Jordan Howard returns, a trio of Howard, Redding and Majette should combine to form a nice rushing attack. Majette’s ability to make an explosive play is an element that the Hoosiers desperately need in their running game and his future appears to be very bright.
-Marcus Oliver Continues to Make Plays- The Indiana defense had an abysmal day and Marcus Oliver was a part of it. That being said, the redshirt sophomore had another nice performance and he has consistently been a standout performer for this struggling unit. Oliver had 14 tackles and an interception on Saturday and he leads the team in tackles (61) and forced fumbles (3) for the season.
-Third (and Fourth) Down Efficiency- IU was woeful on third and fourth down on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers were only 2-10 on third downs and 1-4 on fourth downs. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights were 12-20 on third downs and 1-2 on fourth downs. In my humble opinion, there are multiple things to be frustrated with. The first item is the play-calling. Indiana was in multiple third and short or fourth and short scenarios and they continued to hand the ball off to Devine Redding only for him to charge into the middle of the line and get back to the line of scrimmage (at best). I was pleased with the call that saw Nate Sudfeld fake a handoff and roll out to the left for a walk-in touchdown but this kind of creativity was way too rare on Saturday and it ended up costing IU multiple first downs. Jordan Howard’s eventual return could make a major difference in these short-yardage situations but I don’t blame Redding for a lot of the failed conversions. He was given very little chance and was often hit right after taking the handoff from Nate Sudfeld. That gets me to my second item to lay frustration at the feet of; the offensive line. I thought the offensive line generally played a very good game. They were certainly much better than what we saw against Penn State. Nate Sudfeld mostly had a clean pocket to throw from and IU was able to run for more than 160 yards. However, part of continually getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage on short-yardage plays is that the offensive line wasn’t doing its job. This is supposed to be a strength of the team and they repeatedly got whipped by the Rutgers defensive line on 3rd and short and the plays never had a chance. IU has to get these short-yardage troubles straightened out if they want to have any chance of winning again this season.
-Dreadful Defense- Where to start? IU surrendered 596 yards of offense and fell apart against a team that was missing its best player for a large chunk of the second half (Leonte Carroo injured his ankle on his third touchdown catch of the day). Chris Laviano threw for 386 yards and Rutgers ran the ball 40 times for 210 yards. RU held the ball for more than 35 minutes of this contest as the Scarlet Knights scored the final 28 points of the 55-52 victory. Indiana players routinely took poor angles on plays and crashed inside too aggressively only to miss the tackle and allow the running back to escape to the edge. They rarely pressured quarterback Chris Laviano and were seldom able to put the Rutgers offense into third and long or the least bit uncomfortable situations. While IU’s offense made some mistakes, it was the defense that prevented Indiana from winning this contest and improving to 5-2.
-The Punt Attempt that Changed the Game- Indiana was seemingly in control of the game after a very strong third quarter put them ahead by 19 points. However, a bad snap sailed high and Erich Toth made multiple mistakes to compound things. First, he jumped to try and corral the snap. This is a no-no for punters. Jumping for the bad snap only lessens the time you have to track down the ball and fall on it. Second, he attempted to scoop the ball up and make some kind of play with it. Again, this is a mistake. Instead of just falling on the ball and giving it back to Rutgers, Toth tried to recover it and either run or get off a running punt. Predictably, his desperate effort did not go well. Rutgers Kemoko Turay grabbed the ball and rumbled into the end zone. IU’s special teams unit played well on the whole but this was a very costly series of errors.
-Defending Leonte Carroo- Leonte Carroo is probably the best wide receiver in the B1G and he’s one of the premier pass-catchers in the nation. Stopping him was going to be impossible but the Hoosiers certainly hoped to contain him. Turns out the only way they did either of those things was by way of injury when an IU defender landed on his ankle after his third touchdown catch of the day. Carroo was forced to leave the game and he re-emerged from the locker room wearing a sweatsuit and a boot on his foot. Rashard Fant did a decent job against Carroo but the Hoosiers defensive staff thought it was a good idea to allow Andre Brown Jr. to cover him some as well (why wasn’t Fant shadowing Carroo? I’ll never know). Carroo repeatedly torched him and ended up with 7 catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
-The Collapse- With 5:25 left to play in the third quarter, the Indiana Hoosiers scored on a 66-yard touchdown run by Devine Redding to go ahead 52-27. The Hoosiers had scored 28 straight points and were now leading by 25. Griffin Oakes kicked the ball out of bounds and things would go horribly wrong for the remainder of the contest. Leonte Carroo scored with 2:06 left in the third quarter (52-33). Then Turay ran the fumble recovery 26 yards to score on the botched punt (52-39). Nate Sudfeld then threw his first of two interceptions and Rutgers scored on a three-yard touchdown run (52-46). Nate Sudfeld then inexplicably lobbed a ball downfield and was picked off for the second time and Rutgers quickly scored again but had another extra point blocked to keep the game tied (52-52). The Scarlet Knights got the ball back and went 13 plays for 59 yards before Kyle Federico hit a chip-shot field goal as time expired to win 55-52. Rutgers erased a 25-point deficit in just over ten minutes of game time and then bled the clock before kicking a field goal to win.
The Indiana Hoosiers had a 5-2 record in their grasp. Imagine the 5-2 record as a fish: The Hoosiers had reeled the fish in, taken it off the hook and were admiring their catch and getting ready to take a picture of it. The next step would probably be to post the picture on Facebook and Twitter with some dumb hashtag that vaguely applies to the situation and saying they are “blessed”. However, the fish wriggled ever so slightly, showed a tiny bit of life and scared the Hoosiers. They quickly freaked out, threw the fish back into the lake, hyperventilated and in their frenzied stupor drove the boat right into a dock. I’m certainly no fisherman or football coach but that seems like a terrible way to handle success.
Big Picture: IU now sits at 4-3 (0-3), still two wins away from bowl eligibility. IU will be heavy underdogs as they head to East Lansing and as they host Iowa and Michigan. It’s definitely conceivable that the Hoosiers could get Jordan Howard back soon (he was warming up on Saturday and looks close to a return) and continue to produce on offense and find a way to win at Maryland and at Purdue and accomplish the goal of getting to a bowl game. If that happens, we can look back at this game as an unfortunate and frustrating misstep but ultimately, a non-fatal tribulation on the path to a successful season (getting to a bowl qualifies as a success…not perfection but success nonetheless). If the Hoosiers come up short, as must be expected since winning two road games is extremely difficult for this program, we may look back at this game as the inexcusable collapse that cost IU a bowl bid and cost Kevin Wilson his job as head coach in Bloomington.