My Two Cents: Hoosiers Still Not Ready For Primetime
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It's our job in the media to ask the questions, but on this cold Saturday night in late November, maybe it's best to sum up this Indiana-Michigan game another way.
Let's ask the question of us — myself included —instead:
Did we expect to much from this Indiana team in the final home game of the season?
I know I sure did. I really thought this Indiana team could hang with Michigan, even though the Wolverines were a 10-point favorite. I thought they could score, and I thought for sure that the Hoosiers could force Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson into some turnovers.
I also thought they could pull off the upset here against a No. 12 team that's really been trending upward in the past month.
And I was wrong.
Michigan totally dominated Indiana in the final 44 minutes of this game, winning convincingly 39-14. The Wolverines are now 9-2, and those ugly losses to Wisconsin and Penn State now seem so long ago.
Michigan lately has looked like the team that I picked to win the Big Ten back in August. Shea Patterson, who's been booed off and on during his two years at Michigan, looked like the best quarterback in the country Saturday night, throwing for 366 yards and five touchdown passes. The Wolverines looked great.
And Indiana? They were a massive disappointment, especially in the secondary, which was at one point thought to be the strength of this team, both in talent and depth. Patterson made them look foolish, beating them down the sidelines on one-on-one coverage often.
That's a scheme thing, how Indiana plays defense, playing aggressively with their cornerbacks often on an island in blitz situations. They gave up four pass plays of 35 yards or more, which just can't happen. And with a pass rush that couldn't get home — they had two sacks, but Patterson mostly had plenty of time to throw — the corners were in trouble.
Throw in bad technigue and bad breaks on the ball, and there's a huge problem. And the final multiplier — Michigan's tall receivers having a 4-inch and 5-inch advantage to even beat tight coverage — and you have what we had here, a 39-point offensive explosion by Michigan.
"Basically, it was just not trusting our technique, and not executing to the best of our ability,'' said defensive back Khalil Bryant, who didn't want his last game at Memorial Stadium to go this way. "We got beat on too many plays.''
Sundown ... and out
What is deceiving about this final score is that this wasn't a blowout all night long. We talked all week about Indiana needing to get off to a good start, and they did exactly that. They scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions, and led 14-7 with 14:07 to go in the second quarter.
They would never score again.
Sure, injuries were an issue. Junior wide receiver Whop Philyor, their best player, didn't even suit up after getting hit in the head last week at Penn State. Ty Fryfogle, arguable their second-best receiver, kept fighting through injuries Saturday and missed several dozen plays. Running back Stevie Scott missed some action in the second quarter, and then got hurt again late in the second half.
Still, it was 21-14 at the half, "and we still felt fine, like we were in it,'' senior linebacker Reakwon Jones said. After the sun went down, and a few light flurries started to fall, it all went wrong very quickly. Michigan scored on three of its four possessions in the third quarter and blew the game open.
"We just have to win those one-on-one battles, and that's the most frustrating part of it,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "That's how we play, we attack, but we just gave up way too many big plays. It was very disappointing.''
What has to be taken into account is that Michigan is damn good. Let's be honest. They simply have more 4-star and 5-star recruits than Indiana does. Their talent level is better. Indiana is gaining, but there's still a difference.
Could Indiana have beaten Michigan if they played their best football? Of course.
But they didn't, so they couldn't keep up.
Last week was about making just a few more plays in the 7-point loss at No. 9 Penn State. This week was about understanding you got whipped by a better team ... and then moving on.
Flush it already.
Focusing on a successful finish
This Indiana team has talked all year about this 1-0 mentality, about winning the play and moving on to the next one, and winning a practice or a game, and then flushing to get ready for the next challenge.
It was true in September, and it's even more true now. Losing to No. 9 Penn State and No. 12 Michigan is not such a terrible thing. Those teams, quite frankly, are just better than Indiana. The Hoosiers have shown a lot of promise, but it's clear after the past two weeks that there's still some work to be done.
They're coming, but they aren't there yet.
It's on to Purdue now, and the Old Oaken Bucket. The Hoosiers want it back, and if they go up to West Lafayette and win next Saturday, that will be eight wins and a win over their arch rival.
Ramsey was asked if that scenario — eight wins and hugging the bucket — would be considered a successful season.
"I think so,'' he said. "When you go back, especially for some of the guys who have been here a while, it's not been this way. We haven't had seven wins since I've been here, and I think going out that way and winning would be good.
"We've been playing well, so to come in here and lay an egg, it's hard. The emotions from the previous week to this one are a lot different. We just have to go back and look at it, because there are a lot of things we could have done better.''
Quite frankly, this is a tape that's probably not even worth watching. They know what they did wrong. Nothing surprised them, they just lost too many one-on-one battles.
Time for that 1-0 mentally, again. Purdue is the most important game of the season.
And you know why?
Because it's the next one.