O-line good, but not good enough in opener

Call it a good start to the season for Indiana’s offensive line.

But by no means was it good enough.

That’s how IU coach Tom Allen graded his linemen after Saturday’s 38-28 season-opening win at Florida International. For a group that returns all five starters and looks to rebound from a tough 2017 season, the first game of the current campaign was not the commanding step forward the Hoosiers hoped to see.

“I told our offensive line and told our coaches I was disappointed in our offensive line, even though they did okay,” Allen said. “I did not feel like they finished the way I wanted them to finish blocks, finish the drives. Just, it was not to what I want to see.”

Against a big and talented FIU defensive line — very likely the strength of that Panthers’ program — Allen was pleased to see his Hoosier big men block well enough to get 213 yards on the ground.

Still, he’d have preferred more. Much more.

And it’s not simply quantity that Allen is looking for. It’s short-yardage execution, too.

One play, in particular, rankled Allen early in Saturday’s second quarter, when IU went three-and-out after going ahead 21-7 on its previous possession. After a five-yard rush by Stevie Scott and a four-yard reception by Reese Taylor brought Indiana to its own 43 for third-and-one, Scott was stuffed on an inside run and the Hoosiers had to punt.

On that series, IU rotated new personnel onto the field, playing Nick Linder at center and Delroy Baker at right guard. FIU got quick penetration through the right side, stopping Scott as he approached the line of scrimmage.

“I want those third-and-ones,” Allen said. “Those, we have to get those third-and-ones and that’s what I expect and that’s what we’re going to be, we have to be able to do. And it was, lost a one-on-one battle up front, which was the cause of that one. On a critical situation and we want to be able to stay on the field and get those key first downs. So I would say it was a solid performance, but it wasn’t what I expected out of that group.”

Part of the issue, Allen said, was the toll that the South Florida heat and humidity took on his players, particularly those up front. Six of IU’s 10 offensive possessions lasting at least nine plays.

Left tackle Coy Cronk agreed that the climate was an issue.

“We gotta finish better,” Cronk said. “I think we went out there and played extremely hard and physical, but then I think we got a little bit tired. I think we were prepared from a running standpoint, but I don’t think we’re in game shape. To me, those are two different things.

“It was really hot down there. I think beginning drives and the first half, we were lights out. We were playing very fundamentally sound, but when we got tired, we let our technique slip and we got off some blocks. Some things slipped.”

For the most part, IU did nice job pass blocking. But it’s the overall approach that needs to get better.

This offseason, Allen has been full-throated in his desire to establish a running game after that dimension of Indiana’s offense was largely lacking a year ago.

The offensive line, of course, will be central to that pursuit.

Last week was a decent start. But Allen made one thing clear.

Looking at the total body of work, it wasn’t good enough.

“(I) just want to make sure that those guys are just continuing to get better,” Allen said. “I want them to have an edge about them and play at certain standard that we have. And I just feel like we played good, but not great. And I want to be great.”

9 comments

  1. Our RB’s are not there yet, so the O Line must be great for IU to win now! Stevie and Walker need some time to get there. But they do have talent. IU must “own” 3rd and 1!

  2. I have doubts that Baker is able to play consistently enough to play. I have to wonder where Crider is after the praise he got in Fall camp. The starters on the OL were physical and drove the talented DL off the ball on a regular basis. Do we have RBs that can take advantage of cutting to the open hole, yes we do but they need game experience to get better at that.

    With the weather coming in and VA being thin on the DL this will be a game for the OL to dominate their opponent. I am looking for IU to impose their will on VA.

  3. T.A.’s comments were very pleasing to read and they are reassuring. He didn’t throw his O-line under the bus, but it’s clear that he conveyed to them that he has much higher expectations for their performance. And I really like his comment about them having an edge. I want them to have a little nasty in them like Feeney and Spriggs did.

  4. South Florida early in the season is absolutely miserable. It is one hell of a home field advantage over Midwestern teams. IMHO it is a bigger factor than playing in the cold in November.

    1. Chet,
      I won’t disagree the early season heat and humidity are miserable conditions to play in, especially if you are not used to it. It will tear you down faster than you can imagine if you have never worked or played ball in it. Not very often that Indiana has that kind of weather long enough to condition for it. However, the cold does have a similar effect on players who are not used to it. Biggest thing is the cold does weird things to the football, especially in freezing temperatures. Makes the ball much harder and you have to be able to adjust for it. Just like it is difficult for northern teams to simulate the heat and humidity, it is very difficult for warm weather teams to simulate that kind of cold.

    2. Business or pleasure I hate traveling to the South between March and October. I’d rather shovel snow. Thankfully I’m in a position to control my travel destinations almost 100%.

  5. Could very well be true, Chet…Being conditioned to practicing and playing in sweltering conditions/humidity can be a huge advantage when going against a team from North/Midwest.
    In the US Open tennis tournament, the analysts were attributing much of John Millman’s success(born and trains in Brisbane, Australia) to his being conditioned/used to the unusual stifling heat and humidity nearing what was present at Flushing Meadows during the last two weeks….The humidity was probably at its height when he took down Federer.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-02/bom-says-brisbane-weather-to-stay-hot-and-humid-until-thursday/7132130

  6. It’s been a long time since I was in Miami in late summer, but I remember my dress shirt being soaked after about 4 minutes outdoors.

    My daughter played in a National Premier Club Soccer tournament in Houston one summer. A father of one of the girls on the team was an M.D. He instructed the girls (and the parents) on how to prepare to play in that heat/humidity, and oversaw their hydration and conditioning for a six weeks in advance. While girls on other teams from around the country were dropping like flies in every game, my daughter’s team went undefeated and won the tournament based in large part on hydration, conditioning and depth. After receiving the Champions trophy, my daughter’s coach told the girls, “everyone wants to win, but not everyone is willing to prepare to win. You’re Champions because you prepared to win.” It was a great lesson to those High School girls and he sounded just like Bob Knight at that moment.

  7. While you can’t eliminate the effects of cold you can control them somewhat with the high tech underlayers and gloves available now along with handwarmers, etc.

    There isn’t much you can do to abate sweltering heat and humidity.

    I remember when it felt too hot to ride my motorcycle.

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