The Hoosiers are 3-3 on the 2016 season overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten after a 27-22 loss to the 10th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday in Bloomington. In the loss the offense struggled to get anything going on the ground or in the air, while the defense put together another solid performance against a good offense. The special teams unit came through with a blocked punt that led to a safety, and they also got a big return from punt returner Mitchell Paige. Peegs.com takes a look back at the game and examines each unit on the Indiana team.
Indiana Passing Game
It was a tough day for starting quarterback Richard Lagow and the Indiana passing attack. The Hoosiers were never really able to get in any kind of rhythm with their passing game against Nebraska. Lagow finished 19-of-32 for 196 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown early in the game. That pick six turned out to be a huge play in a game that was decided by five points. The big news from the game when it comes to the QB spot is back-up Zander Diamont got his first meaningful playing time of the year and was able to give the running game a little bit of a spark with his ability to make plays with his legs. As far the wideouts Mitchell Paige had an outstanding game as he led the team in receptions with nine, and in receiving yards with 101. Ricky Jones also had a decent game as he finished with 76 yards receiving on six receptions. It is pretty disappointing to see Nick Westbrook completely shut out as he did not record any stats in the game. Westbrook’s numbers have really tailed off once IU got into conference play and he needs to be more of a factor going forward.
Indiana Running Game
It was not a good day for the Indiana running game against Nebraska. The Hoosiers finished with 88 yards rushing on 30 carries, which comes out to less than three yards per carry. Even if you add in the yardage that Richard Lagow lost on sacks they still only had 109 yards rushing. Any way you break it down it was not a good performance running the ball. Part of the problem was the passing game struggled so the Cornhuskers could stack the box, but the biggest issue is the offensive line is not opening holes for the backs. There is no doubt that the loss of Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel from the right side of the line has made an impact. Those are the two best O-linemen on the IU roster and there is no way the Hoosiers can adequately replace them with younger, less inexperienced players. This week the Hoosiers will face a run defense in Northwestern that is statistically better than what they just faced in Nebraska, but if they want to have any chance to win this week they have to find a way to be more productive on the ground.
Indiana Pass Defense
For the second week in a row the IU defense did a solid job defending the pass. Nebraska’s QB, Tommy Armstrong, finished the game 10-of-26 for 208 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Two of the passes he completed were very fortunate plays for Nebraska that accounted for 126 of his passing yards. The Indiana secondary of Rashard Fant and A’Shon Riggins at corner, and Jonathan Crawford and Tony Fields at safety played well. Crawford and Fields both had picks, and Fant and Riggins were solid in coverage. The Hoosiers also did a better job of getting pressure on Armstrong, but unfortunately because of his ability to move around they were not always able to get him down for a sack. This week they face a Northwestern team that is one of the worst in the Big Ten at protecting their QB so they should have an opportunity to get some sacks on Saturday against the Wildcats.
Indiana Run Defense
Nebraska came in as one of the better rushing teams in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers were able to keep them in check for most of the game. The Cornhuskers rushed for 152 yards on 45 carries which comes out to 3.4 yards per carry. Containing a rushing attack like the one Nebraska has with a very athletic QB in Armstrong and explosive running backs is not easy to do, but the Hoosiers’ front seven was very active and they did a good job all day of getting penetration and getting into the backfield. And the few times there was a hole for a Nebraska ball carrier it was not open for very long as the IU linebackers and defensive backs were excellent at getting downfield to fill the gaps and make tackles. Junior Tegray Scales had another outstanding game as he finished with a team high 12 tackles and two tackles for loss. This week IU faces a Northwestern team that has one of the best backs in the Big Ten in Justin Jackson, but they are also one of the worst rushing teams in the conference. The IU defense has to continue to be stout against the run this week and force Northwestern to throw the ball more than they want to.
Indiana Special Teams
The Hoosiers were able to get a couple big plays from their special teams unit that they turned into nine points. The first play was a blocked punt in the first quarter that turned into a safety when the ball bounced out of the back of the end zone. The second play was a 39-yard punt return from Mitchell Paige that turned into seven points a couple plays later when Devine Redding ran it in from 33 yards out. With the way the offense is struggling right now the play of the special teams takes on even more importance for the Hoosiers. The better field position the offense can get, and the shorter distances they have to go to score, could be huge over the next six games. It is also key for the coverage teams to be solid and not give the opposition any cheap scores. This week IU faces a Northwestern team that is first in the Big Ten in kick returns, and sixth in the conference in punt returns. Winning the field position battle will be a big key for IU on Saturday against the Wildcats.