Rushing offense – A-
After relying on Demetrius McCray almost exclusively the week before, Indiana had a great deal of success utilizing three tailbacks Saturday. Darius Willis returned from an ankle injury to lead the team in both carries (15) and yards (66). Willis showed the blend of power and speed that made him a national caliber recruit two seasons ago. Burgess, meanwhile, was right behind Willis with 13 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown. Considered the team's short-yardage runner, Burgess showed the ability to break tackles during a solid afternoon. On top of that, he also displayed excellent vision on his five-yard touchdown run where he bounced outside as well as some elusiveness. McCray added another 45 yards on 12 carries, giving IU three formidable options as it heads into the Big Ten. All three figure to be a part of next week's Michigan game-plan. A great deal of credit also needs to go to an offensive line that has created some holes for each of IU's running backs. Left guard Justin Pagan's return a week ago from a sprained ankle has coincided with the upswing in productivity, and that's likely no coincidence.
Notable: Indiana ran the ball five times on third down Saturday and converted each time. Four of those short-yardage conversions were on 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 2, but Darius Willis also had an eight –yard run on a 3rd and 4 as well. That success helped Indiana turn in a sparkling 10-of-15 performance on third down conversions, easily the best effort during the non-conference slate.
Passing offense – B-
It was another good – but not great – afternoon for the Hoosiers' junior signal caller. After going 6-for-9 in the first quarter to help IU to an early lead, Chappell misfired on his first six throws of the second quarter, including an underthrown sideline route to Terrance Turner that was intercepted at the Akron three-yard line. Chappell bounced back from those early second quarter struggles to orchestrate a critical 12-play, 77-yard, 5 ½ minute touchdown drive at the end of the quarter that put IU back on top, 17-14. Chappell was a perfect 5-for-5 for 44 yards on that drive and finished 18-of-28 for 163 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His interception was a poorly thrown ball, and the passing game produced a second turnover when Tandon Doss fumbled away the ball on IU's first possession of the second half. Those are miscues that the offense can't make once Big Ten action gets underway.
Notable: Tandon Doss has caught 21 passes for 270 yards in three games and is among the national leaders in both categories. His 7.0 receptions/game ranks 13th in the country, and his 90.0 receiving yards per outing ranks 30th. Doss ranks third in the Big Ten in both categories behind Minnesota's Eric Decker (27 catches, 415 yards) and Michigan State's Blair White (22 catches, 342 yards).
Rushing defense – A
Don't let Akron's final game total of 106 rushing yards fool you – Indiana completely shut down the Zips on the ground. Of Akron's rushing total, 75 came in the final seven minutes of the game after IU had opened a 24-point lead and removed its starters. Before they exited, Akron had managed only 31 rushing yards on 22 carries with a long run of only six yards. Akron starting quarterback Matt Rodgers was probably a bit of a concern for the IU defense entering the contest since he is a dual-threat, but Rodgers was held to 18 yards on 10 carries and was sacked three times. Indiana had hoped to shut down the Akron running game and force Rodgers to beat them with his arm, and he was unable to do so. The assignment will get much more difficult beginning next week when IU goes up against Michigan, but so far, so good for IU's rush defense.
Notable: Indiana climbed six spots in the national rankings in rush defense after its effort this weekend. The Hoosiers rank 15th nationally in rush defense with 76.0 rushing yards allowed per game.
Passing defense – A-
Other than a sack of Matt Rodgers by Greg Middleton on Akron's second offensive play, things didn't start well for the Hoosiers' pass defense. Rodgers finished the first quarter a perfect 3-for-3 for 86 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown to Deryn Bowser where Austin Thomas and Ray Fisher missed on opportunities to knock Bowser out of bounds. But after that sluggish start, IU's pass defense was every bit as dominant as the run defense. During the next two and a half quarters (when IU's starters were still on the field), Rodgers was just 8-of-16 for 53 yards, was sacked three times and threw four interceptions. Besides the sacks recorded by Middleton, Jammie Kirlew and Matt Mayberry, the Hoosiers were consistently applying pressure and forcing Rodgers into ill-advised throws. It was a dominant effort for an IU pass defense that has made tremendous strides since the opening week of the season.
Notable: When Austin Thomas came down with his first interception in the third quarter, it ended a streak of 143 straight passes for Hoosier opponents without getting picked off, dating back to last year's Penn State game. From there, it only took Rodgers two more throws to get picked off by Tyler Replogle, and then three more before Thomas picked him off again.
Special teams – D
The only thing that keeps the Hoosiers from a failing grade on special teams was the game's opening play – a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Fisher. Otherwise, Bill Lynch's team had a rough afternoon with the kicking game. Placekicker Nick Freeland had a field goal blocked for the second straight week, as his third quarter 38-yard attempt was too low and never had a chance to get over the arms of the Zips' defensive front. As bad as that was, Chris Hagerup's blocked punt was even worse. Utilizing the rugby style approach, Hagerup walked right into an unaccounted for rusher and the end result was a Akron recovery for a touchdown. Those plays get overlooked in an easy 17-point win, but they'll be magnified as Indiana gets into the Big Ten slate. Those kind of special teams blunders will prove costly down the road if Indiana doesn't get them cleaned up.
Overall – A-
Offense…check. Defense…check. Special teams…a work in progress. The special teams gaffes will give the IU coaching staff some things to work on this week as IU prepares to travel to Ann Arbor, but they have to feel pretty good about what the Hoosiers are doing on offense and defense as of late. Offensively, Indiana is running the ball with a trio of backs that all bring something a little different to the table. Defensively, Indiana is shutting down opposing running game and its front four is applying the sort of pressure that is forcing opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. The Hoosiers cleaned up their problems with penalties (only flagged four times for 45 yards) this week, which was also a very positive sign. Indiana's performance wasn't perfect, but Bill Lynch's team continues to show it is making big strides every week.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Akron
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