It was a game that featured two teams laying it all on the line and fighting to the last possession. It was a game in which neither team would say die.
It was a game whereâ€¦ uh… well, it was definitely a game.
Iâ€™ll cut through the high-minded language/football clichÃ©s and say this: this game was hard to watch. Seriously, it was â€œWould a third quarter nap be against press box decorum?â€ hard to watch.
Before I rile up any hard-line football purists, please allow me to say that I enjoy a good defensive struggle as much as anyone. There is nothing inherently wrong with a 16-10 football game â€“ but this 16-10 football game set college quarterback play back 20 years.
There were overthrows, underthrows, sacks, missed reads and too many balls in the turf to count. All three signal-callers who took the field had their good moments (Actually, only Dusty Kiel and Matt McGloin did. Rob Bolden was consistently dreadful and should seriously consider another outlet for his *ahem* talents) but none had a performance that would leave an offensive coach feeling happy or comfortable about his quarterback situation. Obviously of the greatest interest to Hoosier fans is Kielâ€™s performance.
It wasnâ€™t great.
Itâ€™s important to remember that it was his first career start. Having a young quarterback make his first career start against the Penn State defense is the moral equivalent of sitting my grandmother in front of a computer and telling her to install new software (that wouldnâ€™t end well folks).
Still, he was given the opportunity to lead 15 Indiana drives and only three of them looked marginally decent. No matter how thatâ€™s sliced, itâ€™s not an acceptable number in conference play, at least not if this team hopes to win a league game.
IUâ€™s defense played reasonably well and made an impressive stand late in the fourth quarter to give the offense one last opportunity to score before the end of the game. It vastly improved upon last weekâ€™s effort in North Texas, just as co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler predicted it would, and gave the Hoosiers a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, it wasnâ€™t quite enough to secure a win.
Thereâ€™s a story in here about the offense not being able to put together enough big plays to win the game and thereâ€™s a story about the defense holding firm and keeping the Nittany Lions out of the end zone, save for a long touchdown. Neither story though is worth focusing on outside of its immediate impact on a game that most fans would rather just as soon forget.
The real story here permeates both sides of the ball and goes a lot further in explaining this teamâ€™s struggles than questioning the starting quarterback or asking why the offense is still using the pistol formation. This is a group that is still unable to put a half of solid football together, let alone a full 60 minutes.
The offense clicked late in the first quarter and again late in the fourth but had 11 straight possessions where it did nothing of note and seemingly had more dropped passes than completed ones.
The defensive effort was solid, but saw a gutty effort essentially nullified when it blew coverage in the secondary and gave up a 74-yard touchdown reception to Penn Stateâ€™s Derek Moye.
These are mere examples of a bigger issue currently plaguing Indiana football that the coaching staff is attempting to address â€“ a lack of mental discipline. Itâ€™s assuredly going to be a process, but until this team is able to cut down on the mental errors it shows consistently (false starts, dropped passes and/or missed defensive assignments) the season will be an uphill climb.
Saturdayâ€™s result wasnâ€™t a surprising one. PSU has an inconsistent offense and Indiana was playing in front of a home crowd in the conference opener after an embarrassing loss. The Hoosiers werenâ€™t nearly as overmatched as they may have appeared coming in to this game. Though they may end up on the business end of a couple blowouts before the year is over, history says that theyâ€™ll have a chance to win a couple of games theyâ€™re not necessarily favored in.
If they want to win those instead of just coming close, itâ€™ll have less to do with whether Wright-Baker or Kiel starts at quarterback (for what itâ€™s worth, I think Wilson will stick with Wright-Baker if heâ€™s healthy) and more to do with this team cutting out mental errors.
Weâ€™ll see if theyâ€™re capable of doing that in the weeks to come.