The film review of last week’s loss was cold and unforgiving.
It laid bare each of Indiana’s flaws, the shortcomings and failures of a team struggling to produce acceptable results. Confronted with the fact that undeniably poor play was becoming a pattern, the Hoosiers held a players-only meeting earlier this week in Bloomington.
They spoke in frank terms and pointed fingers. In particular, they called out their clunky and inconsistent offensive line and the men up front that were failing to get the job done.
In a few days’ time, those players responded.
Indiana rediscovered its running game in a 42-36 win over Maryland on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, riding a backfield and offensive line tandem that produced 414 yards on the ground and three 100-yard rushers.
Suddenly, the offensive stumbles of the season’s first half seemed far in the past.
“We weren’t doing what we do best,” All-American right guard Dan Feeney said. “We weren’t bringing the mentality that we need to, that old-school mentality. It was definitely a big time focus this week.”
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Indiana (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten), which combined to produce a mere 271 rushing yards across its recent skid. Saturday, IU needed only three quarters to surpass that mark against the Terrapins (5-3, 2-3).
Indiana totaled 650 yards of offense. It averaged 7.3 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per play. Running back Devine Redding led the way with 130 yards on 17 carries, and scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. Backup quarterback Zander Diamont, who was also used as a running back Saturday, added 104 yards and closed IU’s scoring with a 52-yard scoring run in the final minute to clinch the game.
Freshman running back Tyler Natee, who took snaps as a wildcat quarterback, joined the fun with 111 yards. He, too, scored on a 2-yard carry in the second half.
In a must-win game that keeps them on a reasonable course to six wins and bowl eligibility, Indiana got its running game going at the most important time.
“Well, you got to. You need to,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “Again, when you got some running game going, all that stuff’s easy. When you got several weeks where you are playing good defenses, you can’t find the running game or you don’t create it, when you’re not blocking, or you don’t scheme it up and get it right, you’re playing one-dimensional, it’s a lot easier to be defended.
“The key to our games over time has been finding a run game. Fortunately we did today. That was huge.”
Last week at Northwestern, IU managed only 84 rushing yards. Two weeks ago against Nebraska, it totaled only 88.
On Saturday, Indiana scored on each of its first two drives, beginning with an 11-yard read option by Diamont, who ran around the right side of the line and dove into the end zone for the score. Redding’s one-yard dive followed.
By the end of those two drives, which featured heavy doses of Natee, IU had produced 98 yards on the ground.
“It’s all the offensive line,” Diamont said. “We called them out last week. We didn’t think that they were playing up to their standard and they stepped up big time. They had a lot of young guys. Delroy (Baker) came in. (Coy) Cronk is playing really well. Everybody, across the board — they were so impressive today. It was awesome.”
Of course it was needed on a day when Indiana was forced to match Maryland’s backfield, one of the best in the Big Ten.
Ty Johnson led eight Maryland ball carriers with 142 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run that put the Terps on the board in the first quarter. Prior to Saturday, Indiana was one of only two teams in the country that had not allowed a running play of 30 or more yards.
But Maryland used its stable of backs to gash IU’s defense. The Terps had 10 runs that produced 10 yards or more.
“Our defense had their hands full,” Wilson said.
Maryland took a 21-16 lead into halftime, an advantage built through a one-yard scoring run by quarterback Perry Hills and a 23-yard touchdown reception by D.J. Moore.
It was an acrobatic catch by Moore, who leaped to make the grab and made sure his foot landed in bounds before the rest of his body fell to the ground.
Meanwhile, Indiana starter Richard Lagow juggled snaps at quarterback with Diamont and Natee, completing 16 of his 25 passes for 207 yards. As well as Lagow played in a bounce-back performance, Diamont, too, had to flash his passing ability to keep Maryland honest.
Diamont made a fine throw that allowed Indiana to retake the lead midway through the third quarter. Facing 2nd-and-10 at the Maryland 38, Diamont hit Ricky Jones for 29 yards on a well-timed cross over the middle. Two plays later, Lagow rumbled into the end zone on a five-yard keeper that put the Hoosiers in front 23-21 midway through the third.
Though Maryland bounced back in front on a 32-yard field goal by Adam Greene, Indiana’s offense remained in fine form the rest of the way.
The Hoosiers added three more rushing scores — a 15-yard reverse for receiver Mitchell Paige, a two-yard run by Natee and a 52-yard scamper by Diamont that sealed an important win.
“Good to get a win,” Wilson said. “That’s all it was. It was just one win. We need to get many more.”
True, but Saturday represented a statement — one the Hoosiers desperately needed to make.