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My Two Cents: Indiana's Offense is Terrible, and Everyone is to Blame

Indiana's offense is turning the ball over far too much and not scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and it's costing them games. It was no different in Saturday's 20-15 loss to No. 10 Michigan State, despite the change in quarterbacks from Michael Penix Jr. to Jack Tuttle.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For 193 minutes of Big Ten football, dating all the way back to early in the third quarter of last December's game at Wisconsin, Indiana's offense had failed to score a touchdown. 

That's a long, long time.

So far this year in Indiana's Big Ten losses — and there are many, three already — they didn't score a touchdown on their first eight trips into the red zone. Let's repeat that for emphasis: no touchdowns in their first eight red zone trips.

Awful.

The ineptness finally ended early in the fourth quarter on Saturday when Stephen Carr finally scored a touchdown for the Hoosiers. But it wasn't enough in a 20-15 loss to unbeaten Michigan State, and it was another occasion where Indiana's offense didn't hold up their end of the deal.

Indiana's offense is a mess. Sure, they move the ball between the 20s fairly well at times, but they aren't scoring nearly enough points.

Who's to blame?

Everyone's to blame.

Everyone.

There is no question that second-year Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan is to blame, because it's his unit. He's in charge of this group, and he's calling the plays. But it's not just him. It's partly him, but it's not just him.

Are offensive coaches like Grant Heard, Deland McCullough, Kevin Wright and Darren Hiller to blame? Absolutely, and some more than others. Their groups all need to be better, too.

A lot of this is on the players, too. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr., hurried back from a second ACL injury, wasn't good in his first five starts, and Jack Tuttle, who replaced him Saturday, wasn't any better. There have been many horrible turnovers and inaccurate passes. They get blame for sure, too.

Receivers have dropped a lot of balls, backs have made poor decisions in the run game and the offensive line, in both pass protection and run blocking, has been sub-par.

So you get my point? You can curse at Nick Sheridan or head coach Tom Allen all you want, but this is a collective failed effort. Everyone, every single person involved with this offense, is to blame.

It hasn't been in sync for a while now, and it shows. With offensive football, there are two things you have to be good at. You have to protect the football, and you have to score touchdowns in the red zone.

Indiana does neither.

And it's not just one thing, it's EVERY thing.

Tom Allen reminded everyone after Saturday's loss that ''the buck stops here,'' and he's right. It was his decision to hire Sheridan as the offensive coordinator after Kalen DeBoer left to be the head coach at Fresno State. The offense was pretty good in 2020 when Indiana went 6-1, but not so much this year.

Not to make excuses, but let's go through a few things.

You have to remember that Penix, coming off another injury, was 12-3 in the 15 games he played in prior to this year. He can play, and he can win. Quit calling him scared. He's never been scared. But this year, he was still playing catch-up, and it showed. He wasn't as accurate as he has been in his career. He had only eight career interceptions in 414 throws, but has seven already this year. He made poor decisions under pressure, for sure. Tuttle did the same thing Saturday on his second interception.

But there have also been an inordinate amount of dropped pass this year, especially from All-Big Ten receiver Ty Fryfogle. It's been an issue throughout the receiving corps, and it showed up again Saturday. Too many drops, and not enough separation. Ohio State's quarterback throws to open targets all day. Indiana quarterbacks don't have that luxury.

And the offensive line, well, it hasn't been good either. Quarterbacks don't have a lot of time to throw, and those quick decisions have led to huge mistakes.

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You naysayers who think Sheridan should be fired today are way off-base. That's not going to happen, and it's especially not going to happen in the middle of the season. And let me ask you this: When you scream about a horrible play call, do you really even know what you're talking about most of the time?

If Sheridan calls the right play, but Tuttle sails a pass over the head of a wide-open receiver, is that a bad play call?

If Sheridan calls the right running play, but Stephen Carr cuts right into two tacklers instead of cutting left into a huge open hole, is that a bad play call?

If Sheridan calls a pass play where two receivers are open but the interior lineman all whiff on their blocks and Tuttle gets hit as he throws, is that a bad play call?

Of course not, on all accounts. All of those things happened Saturday — and have been happening all year.

You can't complain about Indiana throwing a lot of short quick passes AND complain about how the offensive line stinks at pass protection. There's no time to throw long, elaborate routes. And when there is, too many times a dropped pass has negated a big gain. Indiana has an ONE explosive play over 44 yards all season. That says a lot right there.

This offense is deficient in every single area right now, and that needs to get fixed. It's yes to all of it. They need better pass protection, better throws, better catches, better runs and, yes, better play-calling. 

There needs to be creativity and imagination, but there also needs to be a way of developing confidence. It comes down to the players, of course, on the field, but the coaches need to be better, too.

Here's a perfect example of that. On Indiana's first possession, the Hoosiers went flying right down the field, with Tuttle throwing eight straight passes on the drive and leading the Hoosiers to the 6-yard line. They were humming, but then what did they do?

They ran the ball on first-and-goal from the 6 and gained three yards with Davion Ervin-Poindexter, but then went into a wildcat formation with Carr behind center, and everyone in Memorial Stadium knew what was going to happen. The play went nowhere, and when Tuttle was sacked on third down when Indiana's offensive line couldn't block their blitz, the drive ended with a field goal.

Why the wildcat when you know your offensive line has struggled to win short-yardage situations all year? Sure, it didn't get executed by the players, but that's a play-call and package decision that failed badly.

I scratched my head on the second possession as well. It's Tuttle's first start, and you want him to be comfortable. What does Indiana do? They bring true freshman Donaven McCulley in at quarterback, and he throws a ball out in the flat to Carr, but it was behind him by several feet and the play went nowhere. Tuttle came back in on third-and-long — and misreads the coverage and throws a pick-six.

Why even mess with that? Why force a third-and-long? Look, Donaven McCulley is going to be a great quarterback when he times comes, but that's not right now, not on the second drive of a game that you absolutely had to win. That's a bad coaching decision in my book, too.

And if McCulley plays more than four games this year and burns his redshirt, well, that would be criminal. He's got a great future.

Indiana is 2-4 now, with all four losses coming to top-10 teams. The defense has been good enough to win a few of those games, but it hasn't happened. Ohio State is next, and that's really going to be tough, especially with them coming off a bye and really playing well right now.

After that, though, it's Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers and Purdue, and there are several winnable games in there, provided this offense gets better. 

It has to get better. But it's a collective effort, and they all need to get back on the same page all the time. Not just some of the time, but all of the time. They seem so disjointed right now.

Firing people isn't an option, nor is changing responsibilities. What needs to happen is that everyone — and I mean, everyone — just has to get better. There's talent on that side of the ball, and it needs to play better. Coaches need to put them in a better spot to succeed, too.

It can happen. Indiana wins that game with Michigan State without the turnovers. No question. 

They win that game with better execution, too. They aren't far off. Really, they aren't. 

They just need to be better. And that's not a lot to ask.

  • 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