Bloomington – Don't confuse Indiana's decision to play two quarterbacks Saturday with indecision.
In the Hoosiers' 42-29 loss to Michigan State, Indiana added a new wrinkle to the offense when it had both Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell on the field at the same time. Chappell lined up under center, while Lewis would position himself either as a wide receiver or as a running back.
From that alignment the Hoosiers created a bevy of possibilities. Chappell threw two screen passes to Lewis, which resulted in a couple of modest gains. Another Chappell-to-Lewis lateral, meanwhile, was clearly designed for Lewis to hoist a pass in running back Marcus Thigpen's direction, who was streaking down the sideline.
The formation also created running lanes for Marcus Thigpen to work with on some conventional hand-offs, since the Spartan defense was clearly preoccupied with Lewis' whereabouts in the unconventional formation.
Indiana's decision to utilize the dual-quarterback alignment had nothing to do with uncertainty about who should be the team's quarterback, but rather a degree of certainty that having two on the field at the same time would be better than one.
"When they're both out there, it creates something for the defense, gives us another way to get the ball in Kellen's hands, and we have a lot of confidence in Ben being the quarterback," Lynch said Tuesday.
While this was the first time IU put both quarterbacks on the field at the same time, it is something they've experimented with during fall camp and since the season started. Lynch said it wasn't predetermined that they would unveil it in the Big Ten opener, but he instead felt that the time was right Saturday.
"Once we started preparing for Michigan State, we decided this can give us something, let's run it," Lynch said. "We made a conscious decision we'd get to it and get to it early in the Michigan State game."
For everything that went well against Michigan State, the Hoosiers still slipped to 2-2 following the 13-point loss to the Spartans. Lynch has identified one primary cause for the loss.
Both Lewis and Chappell threw an interception, and Demarlo Belcher's late fourth quarter fumble ended the Hoosiers' hopes of a last-minute comeback.
"When you crunch all the numbers, the biggest number is the turnovers," Lynch said. "When you get beat 3-0 in the turnovers in the Big Ten, it's very, very difficult to win the football game."
That's an area Indiana will have to address as it gears up for Saturday's match-up against Minnesota. The Gophers were the league's worst in turnover margin in 2007 with a -13, but they're currently a +9 on the season which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 3 nationally. That's a big reason why the Gophers have gone from 1-11 last season to 4-1 thus far in 2008.
"That's reflective of a team making a turnaround," said Lynch. "That points out all the more why it's so important when you get in tough, Big Ten football games."
Indiana continued to utilize its no huddle offense Saturday against Michigan State, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was in a hurry.
The preconception is that the reasons behind IU's switch to the no huddle formation is because it constantly wants to keep teams on its heels by quickly moving to the line of scrimmage and getting plays off before the defense can make substitutions. While that's something IU does at times, Lynch said that's not always the strategy.
Against Michigan State, IU often ran the play clock down to the single digits before getting the play off, and Lynch said that was by design.
"That's part of the no-huddle – it doesn't have to be hurry all the time," Lynch said.
Lynch was well aware of the fact that Michigan State controlled the ball for 41 minutes in last year's 52-27 MSU win in East Lansing, and he didn't want to see that disparity again.
"We didn't want to get in one of those games with them where they had the ball the whole game," Lynch said. "So we consciously wanted to use some clock."
So what's more relevant?
The fact IU whipped Minnesota last season by 20, or that the Hoosiers have been beaten by a combined score of 118-33 in its last two trips to the Metrodome?
That will be sorted out Saturday afternoon when the two teams meet, but Lynch isn't putting a great deal of stock in the fact Indiana was pounded by 37 when it went there in 2006.
"It certainly doesn't mean very much to half the guys going on that trip," Lynch said. "We're still a young football team…we're going to have a lot of guys playing meaningful minutes up there that weren't there the last time, let alone all the times in between."
Only eight players who started in the '06 game are expected to start again this weekend – offensive linemen Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon; quarterback Kellen Lewis; running back Marcus Thigpen; defensive linemen Jammie Kirlew and Greg Brown; and linebackers Will Patterson and Geno Johnson.
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