I think we all can agree Saturday’s game went a bit differently than expected. Many were caught off guard by how efficient Ball State was against a Hoosier defense that seemed capable of stopping some talented players. The main headline coming into this game though was the new starting quarterback. How would the transition pan out, and what differences would the fans see? I’ll go in depth on those topics in my column summing up the notable aspects of Indiana vs. Ball State, and how the Hoosiers look moving forward after a devastating, hard-fought loss.
Let’s begin with the initial headline going into tonight’s game between the Hoosiers and the Cardinals — Cam Coffman. How will the new “Cam Coffman” era work out in Bloomington? Well, it’s safe to say we fans saw a bit less of this new transition than we would’ve liked. Coffman left the game an apparent hip-pointer injury, according to coach Kevin Wilson, which prevented him from pushing off his back leg.
I’d like to talk about how Coffman did while he was out on the field. I predicted in my weekly preview that he would indeed play well with his composure and experience. He did just that. While on the field, Coffman went 24-35 with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. His composure was particularly valuable during the up-tempo, no-huddle offense the Hoosiers were running the entire game. I liked the “west-coast” offense the Hoosiers seemed to be replicating with Coffman under center — many short, easy passes which seemed to benefit the entire offense.
Because of Coffman’s impressive performance — while it lasted — Wilson said Cam will indeed be in line for the starting quarterback job next game when they face B1G foe Northwestern, assuming he is healthy.
That was one of the smartest moves Wilson made all night.
A season long quarterback competition for the starting job would be detrimental to the whole team. Wide receivers would have difficulty developing chemistry with the team’s quarterback if they’re constantly splitting first team reps. Shane Wynn, who had what most thought was the game-winning touchdown prior to Ball State’s field goal, admitted it wasn’t the easiest task to adjust to three quarterbacks over the course of two games. Coffman earned the right to be the starting quarterback, and I’m glad Wilson agreed to that.
Now let’s talk about those 41 points surrendered by this Hoosier defense. The pressure was weak all game and it didn’t seem like much energy was there. The secondary was coming in on a high note, performing quite well in the team’s first two games. By no means do I wish to sound over critical here, but the secondary looked lost against the Cardinals. Unnecessary penalties, miscommunications, and wide-open Ball State receivers all serve to sum up the play of the Hoosiers’ secondary.
We knew Ball State had an impressive rushing game, but by no means does that mean they don’t have a quarterback. Kenny Mullen, who had an outstanding game against UMass, found himself on the opposite side of the spectrum for Saturday’s affair. With 5:47 to go in the first quarter Mullen got beat on a go route leading to the second touchdown of the night for the Cardinals. He was also called for a pair of costly pass interference penalties that led to scores, and he was beat once again one-on-one on a score that gave Ball State a 31-25 lead.
The lack of discipline by the secondary stood out to anyone who was watching in Memorial Stadium. In one instance, safety Mark Murphy committed an unacceptable unsportsmanlike conduct after the Hoosiers made an impressive stop. The result: a 15-yard penalty, first down, and a horde of frustrated onlookers at Memorial Stadium. Put simply, the secondary didn’t have a represent itself favorably.
The Hoosiers committed 12 penalties for 127 yards. Ball State committed half as many penalties for half the number of yards. Indiana looked undisciplined and the lack of focus definitely took its toll. Coach Wilson didn’t avoid the topic of penalties when it was broached in the press conference, which I thought was courageous by him. He didn’t beat around the bush – rather, he admitted it was a problem and gave no excuses for it.
Let’s turn to one of the more notable bright spots that the Hoosiers can point to. Stephen Houston – junior running back from Arkansas – had himself the best game he’s had all season. Whether it was the more standard offense Coffman ran or the extra bowl of Cheerios he had before the game (just kidding… I think), Houston truly electrified the offense. He had 62 yards on the ground in his first two games on 19 carries, and in this game alone he racked up 102 yards on just 12 carries. Add his touchdown to the mix, and it’s clear how crucial his performance was.
What Coach Wilson and the entire squad must do now is look forward. What does this game do for the team as they move forward to games involving higher competition? For one, in order for the Hoosiers to be in the game when the fourth quarter comes about, it’s imperative that secondary is fixed. There’s no denying that the B1G is weaker this year, but there are still talented quarterbacks in the conference.
In order for the Hoosiers to remain competitive in the B1G and stop the likes of Andrew Maxwell from Michigan State and Matthew McGloin from Penn State – to name a few – that secondary will have to work on its issues. Northwestern, Indiana’s next opponent, has two quality quarterbacks who split time for the Wildcats. Mullen, Murphy, Williams and the rest of their secondary need to take advantage of this bye week and correct the issues immediately, or else it will a rough rest of the season for everyone.
The penalties I see as an easier task for Wilson’s squad. I’ve always thought penalties are easily avoidable – particularly the unsportsmanlike conduct ones. Remove the penalties, or at least minimize them, and the Hoosiers will have more encouraging results.
The Hoosiers had the opportunities to show people their strong points against the lower quality opponents, and they acquitted themselves well. Now, it’s on to Wisconsin, Ohio State and others where the mistakes made by the Hoosiers won’t go unrecognized by their opponents. The loss against Ball State itself was tough, but the team can’t focus on that. In this conference, if you look back for too long, once you look forward you’ll realize you’re way behind.
They have to concentrate on fixing their flaws and rebounding strong. If they do that, they might be able to put some teams behind them.