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Report Card: Loss Against Michigan State Exposes Lopsided Indiana Team

Indiana's defense played well enough to beat No. 10-ranked Michigan State on Saturday, but the offense let them down in a big way in a 20-15 Homecoming loss. Here's our Week 7 report card.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There have been many times through all the years of Indiana football where the Hoosiers could score a lot of points themselves but not stop anyone on the other side of the ball. That's happened a lot.

The pendulum has swung in the other direction this year, and it was on full display on Saturday during Indiana's 20-15 loss to No. 10-ranked Michigan State at Memorial Stadium. The defense played well enough to win, holding the Spartans offense to half the yardage — and points — that they're used to rolling u, but Indiana's offense continued to turn the ball over and fail repeatedly in the red zone all day long.

It makes this week's report card a bit lopsided, but completely understandable. One side of the ball is clearly playing well enough to win games — even against a top-10 opponent — but the offense is so bad right now, at least scoring points, that it's a real problem in getting wins.

Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden, who was the best player on the field on Saturday, said that the Hoosiers will stick together and get through this as a team.

“Football’s a team game and everyone is responsible when something like this happens,'' McFadden said. "There’s no pointing fingers or anything like that. Everybody in the locker room has to stay together.

“It’s definitely difficult at a time like this, but that’s where leadership comes in and captains step up and say what they need to say when they need to say it.''

We say what we need to say with the report card every week, good, bad or otherwide, and we need to say it this week too after the Week 7 loss. Here are my grades from Saturday's game against Michigan State:

Passing offense: D

The quarterback change many fans wanted happened on Saturday, with Jack Tuttle getting the call after Michael Penix Jr. couldn't go because of a separation in his left throwing shoulder. But the same flaws that Indiana's passing game struggled with under Penix — catastrophic turnovers and a failure to score touchdowns in the red zone — were here again Saturday.

Tuttle threw two interceptions, including a pick-six on the second possession that were the only point Michigan State got in the first half. That's how ''catastrophic'' that was. He also threw a second interception in the third quarter, getting hit as he threw when Indiana's offensive line failed to give him time to throw. Michigan State scored its only offensive touchdown of the day after that turnover, and it was the difference in the game.

Tuttle also had a fumble on a strip sack, and three turnovers is just a killer. He was 28-for-52 passing, but only for 188 yards. The short passing game worked a bit between the 20s, but a failure to get in the end zone is still an issue. 

Rushing offense: C

When you look at the totals — 134 yards on 36 carries for a 3.7-yard average — that's not all that bad in a 60-minute game against a stout defense like Michigan State. There was good news too, that some young guys had to step up after Tim Baldwin Jr. entered the transfer portal. Chris Childers and Davion Ervin-Poindexter did just that, with both of them breaking long runs of 25 and 29 yards respectively.

But there's the rub. Take out those two long runs, and Indiana rushed for just 80 on 34 carries, a 2.3-yard average. That's just not good enough. Finding holes to run in has been tough, but as I also mentioned in my column on Sunday, there were times where starter Stephen Carr picked the wrong hole, too. Overall execution needs to get better. Carr had just 53 yards on 19 carries, but he did score the Hoosiers' first touchdown in a Big Ten game early in the fourth quarter. Still lots of work to be done in this area.

Pass defense: A-minus

There was a lot of pressure on Indiana's defense to answer the bell against a Michigan State offense that had been averaging 487 yards per game coming in. A lot had been made about Kenneth Walker leading the nation in rushing, but the truth of the matter is that quarterback Payton Thorne has been playing great, too. He had Tom Allen scared coming into the game because of his big-play potential.

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But Indiana's secondary did a terrific job of keeping receivers in front of them. Thorne finished the day just 14-of-26 passing for only 126 yards, and the Hoosiers picked him off twice. Noah Pierre and Josh Sanguinetti, two guys who have been forced to come off the bench because of injuries, each grabbed their first career picks.

“The guys who were in coverage had their eye on their coverage and they weren’t letting anything cheap get behind them,'' McFadden said. "You’ve got to win the turnover battle and we didn’t today. We had an opportunity down there with that fumble. Noah Pierre and Josh Sanguinetti both did a great job with their interceptions. I think we’re capable, it’s just about guys continuing to do their job and getting those takeaways when they come.''

Rush defense: A-minus

McFadden took this as a challenge, facing Walker, who was averaging 152 rushing yards per game, the best in the nation. And considering he was coming off thumb surgery during the bye week and played with a small cast on his left hand, he was great. He brought down Walker on several third-down runs. 

The Hoosiers held him to 83 yards rushing and no scores, and that's even deceiving because 42 of those came in the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, I think they kind of switched up and they weren’t attacking our perimeter as much and they were kind of hitting it inside the tackles,'' said McFadden, who led the team with nine tackles, tied with Pierre. "I think our D-Line did a great job of knocking their O-Line back. Everybody else did a good job. I think we did a good job of rotating our safeties down where we need to, and they did a good job fitting.''

Special teams: B-minus 

Let's be clear here because the special teams grade covers a lot of areas. Kicker Charles Campbell, the team's leading scorer by a wide margin, deserves an A for his three field goal effort. But his special. teams colleagues dragged the grade down.

Punter James Evans, the true freshman from New Zealand, struggled a bit, averaging only 39.4 yards per punt.

There were were also bad decisions in the return game, which continues to bury Indiana in poor field position. Jacolby Hewitt tried to return a kickoff from inside the end zone and got tackled inside the 15. And Ty Fryfogle made a fair catch on a punt at the 6-yard line, breaking every special team rule about not going backward from the 10 to field a punt, Indiana does that far too often. In all these close games where the offense is struggling, it sure would be nice for special teams to make some plays. 

Coaching: C-minus

Kudos to Indiana's defense staff for having a great game plan against Michigan State and Kenneth Walker, the nation's leading rusher. They rendered him basically meaningless in this game, and that's hard to do. And they had the depleted secondary well prepared too, which is saying a lot considering All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen couldn't play because of a foot injury and Reese Taylor had to leave the game early too.

But what's gone on with Indiana's offense drags this grade down a lot, and it would have probably fallen even further if the defense hadn't been so great. Indiana's offense under Nick Sheridan is a bit of a mess right now. They need to be better, first and foremost, along the offensive line and he needs to find a way to be more creative in the red zone, where they just don't score touchdowns. This has turned into a major problem. And he works with the quarterbacks every day, too, and anothe three-turnover game is simply unacceptable. QB Jack Tuttle took responsibility on Saturday, but a lot of this falls on Sheridan too. His group has to be better.

Intangibles: D

What can you say about a team that continues to disappoint this year? Sure, the schedule has been brutal, but there is no doubt in my mind that Indiana was the better team on the field Saturday against No. 10-ranked Michigan State. The defense, without question, played well enough to win. The offense, though, is literally sucking the fun out of this season.

All these turnovers — 12 so far this season — are so out of character. They've also come at terrible, game-defining times. The pick-sixes, three of them now, are daggers to the heart. 

All the love this program got for last year's great run is fading away. It might be tough to get some of that back this week against No. 5 Ohio State, but the Hoosiers need to finish this season strong, no question.

  • TOM BREW COLUMN: Indiana's offense is terrible, and it's not just the coordinator or line or quarterback, it's everyone. There's plenty of blame to go around.  CLICK HERE
  • TUTTLE TAKES BLAME: Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle said his three turnovers "are my responsibility'' and he vows to make this offense better. Here's the story on his postgame comments. CLICK HERE
  • GAME STORY: Indiana kept Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker in check, but turnovers once again were an issue in the Hoosiers' fourth loss of the season to a top-10 team. CLICK HERE
  • TUTTLE DRIVE CHART: Here's what Jack Tuttle and the Indiana offense did on every drive Saturday against Michigan State. CLICK HERE
  • LIVE BLOG: Here's how the game played out in real time, with play-by-play and analysis of Indiana's 20-15 loss to No. 10 Michigan State. CLICK HERE
  • TAILGATE TALES: HoosiersNow.com video director Haley Jordan caught up with fans prior to the game during tailgating around Memorial Stadium for her first ''Tailgate Tales'' video. CLICK HERE