Entering week six, Indiana football is 2-3 with all three of its losses coming against current top five teams.
On the surface, that’s not ideal but totally understandable. The issue is the Hoosiers mustered only 26 points across those three losses.
So, yeah. We should probably talk about the offense.
Before you target your vitriol at a football team of which literally nobody forced you to be a fan, allow me to field your burning questions and provide some insight.
The offense is definitely bad, right?
No, this isn’t an elaborate gaslighting ploy. Indiana’s offense is worse than what we’re used to.
In 2019 under former offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, Indiana averaged 5.7 yards per play, which ranked 56th nationally. Since Nick Sheridan took over for DeBoer in 2020, that number has dropped to 4.76 yards per snap — 103rd in the country.
Enough numbers, nerd. Who do I get angry at? It’s the quarterback, isn’t it?
I don’t want to drone on about junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s shortcomings. Call me a pushover, but extensively berating 21-year-olds whose greatest crime is not playing football as well as expected isn’t really my thing.
Yes, Penix probably deserves criticism for his decision making. I’m sure Hoosier fans would love to see him actually step into his throws every once in a while.
Then again, I probably wouldn’t be a huge fan of maximal bodily exertion if I also had a twice-torn ACL, a previously broken collarbone, a separated acromioclavicular joint and a brain with at least one concussion.
Is Tuttle the answer?
If the question is what quarterback can save Indiana’s season, I’m guessing not.
Junior quarterback Jack Tuttle has been a model of consistency and risk aversion for Indiana. He doesn’t turn the ball over much, and he hands it off like a natural.
If Tuttle takes over as starter, we’ll get a much better idea of his abilities. A new signal caller might be the spark that Indiana’s offense needs, but you need a pretty big spark to ignite wet wood.
Right now, it’s pouring in Bloomington.
Regardless of the quarterback, who can they throw to?
The obvious answer is graduate student wideout Ty Fryfogle. However, the 2020 first-team All-Big Ten receiver is averaging less than half as many yards per game at 10.5 in 2021 .
Be it Penix or Tuttle, Indiana’s quarterback has a treasure trove of big, tall receivers. Unfortunately, those big, tall receivers need time to get open downfield, and time isn’t something Indiana’s offensive line is adept at creating.
Oh, so you’re saying it’s the line?
It’s hard to quantify offensive line performance, but Indiana’s 3.4 rushing yards per carry aren’t a great sign.
Nevertheless, we have to consider the line has gone up against three teams in No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Penn State and No. 5 University of Cincinnati all ranking in the top 10 for yards allowed per play.
The Big Ten is full of great defenses, and great defenses don’t care which aspect of your offense is vulnerable. If there’s a weakness, they’ll exploit it. It just so happens Indiana’s Achilles’ heel is more of an Achilles’ torso, arms, legs and assorted vital organs.
Is there any hope for the offense under Sheridan?
Early this season, I believed the Hoosiers needed to put more emphasis on short, easy passes to compensate for the lack of a rushing threat. That didn’t exactly work against the Nittany Lions.
The Hoosiers’ pass catchers couldn’t have found space if they used NASA’s giant James Webb telescope. The receivers certainly deserve some portion of the blame, but I have to imagine a superior play caller might have adjusted to get his players open faster and more often.
As for Indiana fans at large, many took to Twitter with reactionary comments about Sheridan on Saturday night. Believe it or not, the terms tactical genius and contract extension didn’t come up very often.
If it’s impossible to fix the offense this year, what am I supposed to do?
It’s cliché, but try to focus on the positives. Indiana’s roster is still full of amazing athletes capable of making fantastic plays at any moment.
As a Hoosier fan, now is a time to practice patience. Someday sooner than you think, fate might reward that patience.
I don’t want to get your hopes up too high, but Indiana might even score an actual touchdown against a Big Ten team. Just don’t put any money on it.