Bloomington – Bill Lynch doesn't think his team should try to mirror what the Indianapolis Colts did Monday night in Miami if it wants to have success Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Despite losing the time of possession battle by a nearly 3-to-1 count to the Dolphins, the Peyton Manning-led Colts scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to upend the reigning AFC Eastern Division champions. Lynch would love to see a similar result for his team on the scoreboard, but he has a different formula for success.
"For this particular football team and what we're trying to do, time of possession is important," Lynch said.
It's importance was clear to the staff in the off-season when it sat down and chewed on the numbers from last year's 3-9 campaign. Among the most glaring deficiencies was possession time, as Indiana's defense was on the field nearly six more minutes per game than the offense, ranking it last in the Big Ten.
"I think our defense was on the field too much last year," Lynch said. "We put our defense in some bad situations last year where we were off the field too quickly and they were on it too much during the course of the game."
The reasons for that were plentiful. On the positive side, Indiana's offense had some big scoring plays, most frequently from fleet-footed tailback Marcus Thigpen. But more often than not, the short offensive series were a result of an offense that struggled to consistently run the ball, whether it was on 1st and 10 or 3rd and short. That resulted in too many three-and-outs and failed short-yardage conversions.
Lynch and the IU staff decided it couldn't do that again this year if they hoped to see different results. That led to the adoption of the "Pistol" formation, the utilization of the tight end, and the commitment to running the ball with greater regularity and success.
So far so good for the Hoosiers during their 3-0 start. Indiana has climbed to fourth in the conference in time of possession, holding the ball for nearly four more minutes per game than their opponents. Indiana's best effort in the category came in Saturday's 38-21 win at Akron, which also happened to be the team's best performance of the season. Indiana held the ball for nearly 35 minutes against the Zips as it kept its defense off the field with a reliable running game and efficient work on third down.
As important as time of possession may be for the Hoosiers, Lynch admits it's not the same sort of indicator as it used to be. Quick strike offenses can be every bit as potent and productive, and Michigan is the perfect example. The Wolverines are 3-0 despite ranking ninth in the conference in time of possession. But Michigan is still averaging a Big Ten-best 38.0 point/game, due in large part to the fact they've scored seven touchdowns from at least 25 yards out in its first three games. Indiana, by contrast, has only three.
Lynch is confident the big plays will come for his offense as well. But if they don't come this weekend, he'll be happy so long as his offense can do its part to keep Michigan's offense off the field by controlling the ball and the clock.
"I think with what we're doing, ball control is really important to us," Lynch said.
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