Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: Indiana football’s defense should break up with its offense

<p>Graduate defensive lineman Ryder Anderson and senior linebacker Micah McFadden sack sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne on Oct. 16, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. Indiana lost to Michigan State 20-15. </p>

Graduate defensive lineman Ryder Anderson and senior linebacker Micah McFadden sack sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne on Oct. 16, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. Indiana lost to Michigan State 20-15.

There’s an outdated television trope for which I harbor a particular disdain. In this cliche, a frumpy, generally uninteresting man engages in a variety of suburban hi-jinks while inexplicably married to an extremely conventionally attractive woman. Think “King of Queens,” “The George Lopez Show” or pretty much anything that aired on TBS in the early 2010s.

Watching Indiana football’s 20-15 loss to No. 10 Michigan State, I couldn’t shake the idea that Indiana’s offense was playing the Kevin James to Indiana’s defense’s Leah Remini. 

The Hoosier defense has looked fantastic throughout 2021. Meanwhile, the offense has ranged from uninspired to downright pitiful. The result is a team that hadn’t scored a single touchdown against a Power Five opponent before Saturday.

Related: Instant recap: Indiana football loses to No. 10 Michigan State 20-15

With junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. sidelined due to an acromioclavicular joint injury, junior quarterback Jack Tuttle took over. Like anytime a struggling offense switches quarterbacks, an undeniable curiosity and excitement was in the air at Memorial Stadium.

On Indiana’s opening possession, Tuttle looked like the Penix of old, hitting a series of short but intelligent throws with tremendous accuracy en route to a field goal from junior kicker Charles Campbell. The next drive, Tuttle looked like the Penix of a few weeks ago, tossing a pick-six on third down.

Like they say, it’s not the name on the back of the jersey, but the one on the front.

Meanwhile, the defense remained as solid as ever. It’s biggest priority Saturday was containing Michigan State junior running back Kenneth Walker III, a very fast and very strong human who led the nation in rushing yards coming into the game.

Related: Indiana football’s Aaron Steinfeldt is driven by family on the field and at home

Whenever Walker touched the ball, it felt like a piano wire was being stretched tighter and tighter, threatening to snap. However, the Hoosier defense never broke under the leadership of unflappable senior linebacker Micah McFadden, and by the final whistle, that piano wire looked more like a limp Play-Doh snake with just 84 yards on 23 carries.

Even if it’s true that defense wins championships, it certainly can’t win any single game on its own. 

I am a firm believer that if a college football team can do one thing really well, it will win most of its games so long as it doesn’t have an incredibly exploitable weakness. I also recognize Indiana has a great defense but not one that can weather the repeated self-immolation of its offense. 

Even if you discount Tuttle’s two interceptions, there wasn’t much he could do to move the ball downfield. The Spartans gave the Hoosiers’ wideouts more cushion than a tasteful seven-seat La-Z-Boy sectional, forcing screen pass after screen pass. 

Last week, I commented on Indiana’s inability to generate easy yardage, and today was a perfect example. I have never seen a team fight so hard and expend so much energy to gain two yards. 

It didn’t matter what the Hoosier defense did in support of its counterpart, be it forcing two interceptions in the second half, bottling up Walker or making sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne look like his team’s second best passer, right behind senior tight end Tyler Hunt. 

The contrast between Indiana defensive coordinator Charleton Warren and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan is truly a spectacle to behold.

Indiana’s defense is a career woman with a sharp fashion sense and an even sharper mind. Indiana’s offense just bit into an overfilled Reuben sandwich and dribbled thousand island dressing on its wrinkled Hanes beefy T-shirt.  

I fully realize it takes a certain degree of nuance to criticize the Hoosier offense amid a plethora of injuries and a brutal slate of opposing defenses. For now though, I don’t have any thoughts more nuanced than “Wow, this offense is really bad.”

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