Saturday, October 24, 2009

Football season over

This loss hurts more than the blow-out at Virginia. The Hoosiers were up 28-3 half way through the second quarter, but still managed to lose to Northwestern, 29-28.

The Hoosiers gave up 14 points in the final 4 minutes of the first half to give the Wildcats hope, then did not score a point in the second half. The offense was stopped on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line in the third quarter, which likely sealed the loss. Northwestern had turned the ball over for a second time in the quarter and still were down 28-19 after IU had a punt blocked for a safety.

An IU touchdown would have put the game out of reach and a field goal would have increased the lead to 12. Instead the Hoosiers got no points and Northwestern converted the turnover into a touchdown, which cut the deficit to two.

The winning score came on a Northwestern field goal with 21 seconds left. Unfortunately, I can't fault the IU defense for its inability to stop the Wildcats when the game was on the line. The Hoosiers forced three turnovers in the second half, which the IU offense could not convert into points. Northwestern gave the Hoosiers opportunities to put the game away, but IU refused to finish.

I think the story of the 2009 Hoosiers is they are a 30-minute team. The Hoosiers were able to play well in the first half, but consistently fell apart in the second. An inability to finish caused losses to Northwestern and Michigan and made several other games closer than they should have been.

Barring two miracle wins in the next four games, the IU season is essentially over. The Hoosiers play Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State before finishing the year at home against Purdue. Now that the Boilers are playing better these past two weeks, it is entirely possible the Hoosiers could lose out. Fortunately for me, that would mean my season prediction (4-8) would be correct.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I think the coaching staff needs to be changed and head coach Bill Lynch is in the last year of his deal. Lynch and his staff always seem to have great game plans at kick-off. But when opponents make adjustments, the IU coaches don't seem to be able to counter. Northwestern clearly made an offensive and defensive adjustment when IU took the early lead. Throughout the second half, IU seemed to play right into Wildcats' hands.

Throughout the season, it has not been superior opponents like Ohio State that have stymied the Hoosiers. Eastern Kentucky and Northwestern did not allow any IU points in the second half. IU was 1-1 in those games and both games were decided by a touchdown or less.

Western Michigan, Michigan, Ohio State, and Virginia also outscored IU in the second half. The Hoosiers were 1-3 in those games, including two that were decided by four points or less.

It is an alarming statistic, especially given the talent IU has on both sides of the ball this year. To me, it means someone is unwilling or unable to change when the other team figures out the game plan. It is not coaching that long-term will help rebuild the IU football program.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two wins to go and the Wildcat QB

The Hoosiers improved to 4-3 with a somewhat convincing win over Illinois, moving two wins from bowl eligibility.

Once again, the Hoosier defense set up the clinching scores in the second half. Illini QB Juice Williams fumbled twice, including one deep in IU territory, which the Hoosiers converted to touchdowns. The IU offense also looked much better, with Hoosier QB Ben Chappell throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Darius Willis also returned to the lineup, rushing for 58 yards.

The Hoosiers this week travel to Northwestern, where they will have to prove they can beat a team on the road that is better than Akron. A loss next week, and fans can fully shift their focus to basketball season.

An interesting side note on Saturday night's win. Yes, Chappell played likely the best game of his college career last night. But Mitchell Evans also impressed when he moved into the quarterback spot in Wildcat formations.

Evans did not complete a pass in two attempts, but ran for 84 yards on nine rushes. He is clearly faster than Chappell and a big asset in the pistol offense the Hoosiers run, which is a version of the spread attack in use around college football.

I'm wondering if Evans would be a better regular quarterback in the Hoosier system than Chappell. No question, Chappell can make all the necessary throws. He made a really pretty 44-yard pass to Tandon Doss in the fourth quarter that put the game away. But Chappell cannot run effectively if the pocket closes. The IU coaches also can't call the designed QB runs that are a staple of most spread offenses with Chappell in the game.

Just look at Illinois: Williams ran for 54 yards against the Hoosiers last night, the second most on the team. Florida QB Tim Tebow does almost all the offensive work for the Gators and Michigan QB Tate Forcier is as much a threat to run as he is to pass.

Evans, a junior, began last season as a quarterback, but moved to wide receiver. He came to IU having played QB and safety in high school.

At this point, Evans has only six pass attempts for the season with two completions. But he also has 125 yards rushing and is averaging more than six yards a carry. Am I suggesting Chappell should be benched as the starting QB? No. But I just wonder if Evans could be a better and more complete QB in the pistol system if he took more snaps.

I don't think any changes will be made at this point. It's just something to think about.