4 things we learned from IU’s loss to Michigan

1. The Bucket Game will be for bowl eligibility.
For the second time in series history — not to mention, as many years — both Indiana and Purdue need the Old Oaken Bucket to earn a bowl bid. The Hoosiers’ effort at Michigan should propel them into the matchup with confidence after they turned in a strong first-half performance, outplaying the Wolverines in the first two quarters. Indiana’s challenge, of course, is playing four full quarters — something it failed to do in last year’s Bucket Game, a head-scratching performance in West Lafayette. “We’ve just got to stay the course, and we have the same opportunity that we had a year ago,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “Now, with their result (Saturday), both teams are fighting for the same thing. Winner moves on, loser goes home.”

2. IU remained aggressive.
The assertive approach Indiana established in its Nov. 10 win over Maryland carried over against Michigan. The Hoosiers looked to throw downfield, tried to steal possessions and finished with nine explosive plays, including five on passes by Peyton Ramsey. Give the IU quarterback credit. He was tough in the pocket, while giving the offense an added dimension on the ground with his scrambling ability. Against the No. 4 team, in a stadium where Indiana hasn’t won in 51 years, the Hoosiers had the correct approach. Tom Allen wanted them to play with attitude, and they did — sometimes to their own detriment. But, by and large, Indiana played with the spirit of a team believing it could swing the upset.

3. Freshmen defenders continue to impress.
This has been a season of growing pains for Tom Allen’s young defense, which has expectedly taken lumps throughout the campaign. Even on Saturday, breakdowns in the secondary led to big gains — and touchdowns — for Michigan’s offense. But some of the individual moments by IU freshmen defenders bode well for the future. The most noteworthy highlight was Devon Matthew’s physical, textbook tackle of tight end Sean McKeon moments before halftime, stopping a touchdown and preserving IU’s 17-15 lead. Then, there was James Miller’s third-and-two red zone stop of Karan Higdon, who couldn’t gain an inch with the IU newcomer in his way. There was also defensive end James Head, who seemed to initially lose tight end Zach Gentry at the line of scrimmage before catching him downfield and making then score-saving tackle. For a 6-foot-5, 248-pound rush end, it was an impressive flash of speed and pursuit. Indiana’s defense is still susceptible to breakdowns, something that could cause problems this weekend against Purdue. But the next wave of defensive talent is making a ripple.

4. Special teams remain clunky.
An uneven, inconsistent season on special teams continued Saturday. Indiana made a point to kick short and limit the possibility of big returns, but that didn’t necessarily work to the Hoosiers’ advantage. Kickoff coverage has been a concern for IU all season, and it doesn’t seem IU simply has the luxury of booting the ball through the end zone. So to mitigate speed on the return units, Allen has tried to steer kicks away from the top return men. It’s not a bad idea, but it hasn’t always worked. “I didn’t think the quality of the kicks were very good (Saturday),” Allen said. “(Kickoff specialist Jared Smolar) struggled more than I’d like for him to. But that’s obviously the objective, to be able to get your coverage and not give up field position. There’s nothing more demoralizing than having a great offensive series and score points, and then the very next play they run it deep on you on a return. … We’re not trying to sit there and dare guys to beat us. We have a lot of young guys in our kickoff cover unit and a lot of true freshmen that are doing some great things, but they’re young. As they develop, we’re just going to try to be smart.”

What’s next
Old Oaken Bucket game vs. Purdue, Saturday, noon, at Memorial Stadium, ESPN2.
The Boilermakers are coming off a triple-overtime loss to Wisconsin at home on Saturday. Purdue quarterback David Blough threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns in his final game at Ross-Ade Stadium, while electric newcomer Rondale Moore made nine catches for 114 yards and two scores. As aggressive as Indiana’s offense has been these past two weeks, the Hoosiers are showing signs they’ll be able to pick at Purdue’s defense. But does Indiana’s defense have the will and athleticism to defend the Boilers and their high-powered offense in space? Can the Hoosiers keep up?

8 comments

  1. 1. On back to back possessions late 3rd and early 4th with ball at midfield IU got conservative. IU would not go with pass downfield or even deep even on third down. Then decided to try fake punt on 4th that of course failed. (if ball gets intercepted on pass offense has to tackle). 2. Reese Taylor is utilized on offense about 30% of what it should be. 3. It is good to see some physical toughness for IU. Needed much against Purdue. 4. Trying to be smart on kicking game doesn’t = smart. 5. Purdue is going to try to pick IU defense a part with pass and feature play from R.M. 6. Purdue will focus on stopping run and IU can’t play to close to vest on offense and be willing to go downfield. R.T. has to be featured in this game. Conclusion: overall, IU will have to play beyond quite a bit more than there best game thus far to win.

  2. t, good post as you pointed out most of the issues of the Bucket game. I agree that IU wasn’t aggressive in that series and it is more than just throwing long passes. Where are the slot post passes when defense is in a bad position to stop it. IU gets killed by that pass but we never try it. It isn’t a long pass but ends up being a long passing play after the run.

    I hope IU cuts lose against PU this week as they have nothing lose. I doubt IU will beat them with a conservative playing. I hope we see a change after this season as once again the offense is only averaging 26 points a game like last year. I was willing to give DeBord another year last year but it is clear he doesn’t have the imagination to give IU offense a chance against the best teams.

  3. Clever how you did that thing with your name…Sadly, every time your screen name shows up, we have to read “Purdue.” At the end of the day, you’re giving them free advertising on an IU site.

    I hope we run back some kickoffs against the crappy team to our north. Against Michigan, I thought the fact we took no gambles on running a kicks out near the goal line…may have been just as costly as “clunky” coverage.

    We need to find ways to be more offensively aggressive…That’s difficult when your qb has a weak arm and can’t zing it or go deep downfield.
    Need to razzle dazzle(reverses, running back throw options) a bit more…Use Taylor more. Take more risk and return the occasional deep kickoff. Hard to be totally dynamic on offense when the qb has arm limitations…

  4. Speaking (writing) of kickoff returns, why isn’t Harris doing that anymore. And please don’t tell me “He might get hurt.” The same goes for every player on every down. And free kicks and tries.

  5. Big plays for Purdue vs. No/Only Couple big plays for Purdue offense will determine winner of bucket game. Time and time again IU offense successfully works hard many plays only to make a mistake or come up empty or maybe kick field goal. Then, finally score a touchdown. Then, opponents have made big plays not having to go through an equal process and score to easily. This imbalance has cost IU a couple games this year and other games IU struggled to hang on to win.

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