Rushing offense - D-
There wasn't much to like about the Hoosiers' running game Saturday in Iowa City. Indiana managed a season-low 73 yards on 35 carries, led by a meager 23 yards of Marcus Thigpen. With Kellen Lewis running just four times for 20 yards, any success running the ball was going to need to come courtesy the tailbacks and it simply didn't happen. Adding insult to injury was a Marcus Thigpen fumble in the third quarter that set up an Iowa touchdown drive that cut the Hoosiers' lead to eight, 21-13. As the competition gets tougher the offense is becoming more and more dependent on Lewis to do everything. That's not a problem when the sophomore is throwing for a career-high 322 yards and accounting for four TDs, but it will be an issue before long. On Saturday, Thigpen, Bryan Payton and Josiah Sears combined for 31 carries for 53 yards and three fumbles with a long run of seven yards. That's a problem.
Notable: The Hoosiers' inability to move the ball on the ground was especially obvious on first down. Indiana ran the ball 17 times on first down and managed just 35 yards. In the first three quarters the numbers were even worse, as IU totaled 14 yards on the ground on 12 first-down carries.
Passing offense – A
Other than an ill-advised across-the-body throw in the end zone in the first quarter that resulted in an interception, Kellen Lewis did anything and everything the Hoosiers needed. The sophomore completed 19-of-26 passes for a career-high 322 yards and three touchdowns. His top target was James Hardy, who did even more than his four-catch, 113-yard, one-touchdown statistical line would suggest. Hardy was huge early, catching the game's opening touchdown and then setting up the second with a 48-yard reception that moved the ball inside the Iowa 20. But he also drew a pass interference call that gave IU another first down, and then drew a holding call in the end zone that gave IU a first down at the one-yard line on a critical third-quarter drive that put IU up 28-13. Others came up big as well. Brandon Walker-Roby's 24-yard reception on a 4th-and-5 in the third quarter might have been the day's biggest play, and Andrew Means had a big catch on a 3rd-and-10 that moved the chains in the fourth quarter when IU led by just 11 and the game was still in the balance. There might be plenty to be concerned about with IU's running game, but there's plenty to like about the passing attack.
Notable: Kellen Lewis wasn't sacked all afternoon, marking the second time in three games the offensive line has provided virtually flawless pass protection. Illinois sacked Lewis seven times in Illinois' 27-14 win last weekend, but IU's other four opponents have combined for just two sacks in four games. Lewis' escapability contributes to that number, but he rarely found himself being harassed Saturday by an Iowa defensive line that has plenty of playmakers in Mitch King, Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison, a trio that had combined for nine sacks entering the game.
Rushing defense – B+
Iowa out-gained Indiana on the ground 120-73, but it was mission accomplished for the Hoosiers' run defense. With talented tailbacks Albert Young and Damian Sims at their disposal, Iowa had hoped to lean on their ground game to carry them against an IU defense that had given up nearly 300 yards on the ground the week before against Illinois. But that didn't happen. Young had a solid afternoon (15 carries, 94 yards) while Sims contributed another 38 yards on seven carries, but ultimately had a negligible impact on the game's outcome. Indiana's offense played a big part in IU's success in stopping the run as well. The Hoosiers raced to a 21-0 lead, and Iowa trailed by at least two scores every time it had the ball for the remainder of the game. Indiana's goal was to make Iowa win by throwing the ball, and the Hawkeyes couldn't do that.
Notable: Indiana didn't give up any rushing touchdowns Saturday, marking the third time in five games it hasn't yielded a score on the ground. On the year, IU has given up only three rushing touchdowns, a marked improvement from a year ago when it gave up 22 rushing touchdowns.
Passing defense – A-
It's not too often than an opposing quarterback throws for 300 yards and the pass defense gets some sort of an "A", but the IU coaching staff couldn't have asked for much more from its defensive unit. Jake Christensen completed 24-of-42 passing for 308 yards and threw for three scores, but was sacked nine times by the IU defense. Jammie Kirlew led the way with 3 ½ sacks, while Greg Middleton added 2 ½ more to up his season total to eight. Leslie Majors, meanwhile, had a huge interception late in the third quarter with IU leading 28-13. His pick led to an Austin Starr field goal that put IU up by three scores, 31-13. The biggest gaffe from the pass defense came at the close of the first half, when four defenders (Nick Polk, Tyler Replogle, Chris Phillips and Leslie Majors) all went up to try to bat down a Christensen heave into the end zone, only to instead tip the ball to Iowa wideout Trey Stross for Iowa's first touchdown. That play had a chance to be a tide-turner in the second half, but the IU defense responded in the third quarter by limiting Christensen to 2-of-7 passing for 23 yards and one interception, enabling IU to retake control of the game.
Notable: Greg Middleton has 7 1/2 sacks on the season, a total that already has him ranked fifth on IU's all-time list (sack leaders have only been kept since 1985). He leads the Big Ten in the category and ranks second nationally behind South Florida's George Selvie (9 ½). He's on pace to break IU's single-season record of 14 set by Van Waiters in 1986, and should soon become just the fourth player in school history to record double-digit sacks (Waiters, Joe Huff and Adewale Ogunleye).
Special teams – A-
For the second time this season, Austin Starr kicked a 45-yard plus field goal on the road at a critical time to help secure Indiana's lead. The first one came in Kalamazoo, when his 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter put IU up 16 in a game it would eventually win 37-27. Then yesterday against Iowa, it was a 46-yard field goal in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter that put IU up by three scores, 31-13. Both were huge plays. Will Patterson and Tim Bugg also turned in a big play on special teams, forcing a Colin Sandeman fumble on a punt return in the first quarter that gave IU the ball on the Iowa 20. Michael Hines didn't have the best of days, averaging just 37.2 yards on five punts, including three that went for less than 35 yards. But considering Iowa missed two field goals and an extra point, Indiana won the special teams battle in a landslide.
Notable Stat: Let the Austin Starr, all-Big Ten kicker talk begin. Starr has emerged as the top placekicker in the Big Ten during the last 1 ½ years. He made a pair of game-winning kicks a year ago, and has added a pair of huge long-range field goals in the fourth quarter this year that has helped IU preserve leads. He's 8-of-9 on the year and 20-for-24 for his career, including 4-for-4 from outside of 40 yards. His eight field goals ranks 12th nationally, and he's done anything and everything that the IU staff could have hoped for. AT this point, he's the first-team All-Big Ten kicker, hands down.
Overall – A
An 18-point win on the road in the Big Ten? Whether you're Indiana or Ohio State, that's reason to celebrate. Road wins in the Big Ten are never easy to come by, particularly for the Hoosiers who won just their second Big Ten road contest in six years. Offensively Kellen Lewis paced an IU attack that scored five touchdowns against an Iowa defense that had surrendered only two touchdown in its first four games this season. Defensively, IU totaled nine sacks and gave up only one play of 30 yards or more (33). Sure there were a trio of fumbles and a bad interception in the end zone, but overall a great effort and a huge win for the Indiana program.
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