Indiana football has won two of its first six games of the season. With the exception of No. 11 Iowa, every team it has lost to is currently ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The defense, which branded itself as “INTiana” last season after intercepting 17 passes, has only forced four interceptions this season. Its offense has scored just one touchdown in three games against Big Ten opponents.
Indiana has taken blow after blow this season. How does head coach Tom Allen want the team to respond? Keep punching back.
“We’re swinging hard,” Allen said in a press conference Monday.
The Hoosiers want to follow up their slow 2-4 start by dealing out some blows of its own. Here’s what to expect from them moving forward:
Donaven McCulley’s role will increase
Going into the season, Indiana planned to limit freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley to four games at the most to preserve his redshirt eligibility.
That changed after injuries to starter junior Michael Penix Jr. and redshirt freshman quarterback Dexter Williams, Allen said.
“Now he’s the number two guy training to be the next guy in,” Allen said. “Expect to see him more.”
McCulley took three snaps against Michigan State on Saturday, completing a lateral pass to graduate student running back Stephen Carr and rushing for eight yards on two attempts.
Allen said the coaching staff wants to make sure McCulley has the right mindset to be Indiana’s quarterback of the future, while also being prepared to step in immediately as the team’s backup.
“He's a quarterback,” Allen said. “He can throw it, he can run it. That's what we wanted to see him do.”
Nick Sheridan is aware of Indiana’s red zone issues
Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan didn’t hold back when he was asked about Indiana’s offensive performance. Sheridan said it comes down to two things: quarterback play and red-zone efficiency.
Indiana’s quarterbacks have combined for 10 interceptions this season. Indiana last threw over 10 interceptions in a season in 2018 when Peyton Ramsey threw 13.
Indiana’s offense made it into the red zone three times Saturday and came away with 12 points.
“We’ve had opportunities in the red area and we haven’t scored touchdowns,” Sheridan said. “I think the explosive plays have not been what we want it to be, and those are really the two factors when you’re talking about points and production.”
The Hoosiers are averaging 4.3 points on red zone possessions so far this season. That number drops to 2.6 against Big Ten competition.
Just one more red-zone touchdown would have made the difference and allowed Indiana to beat Michigan State, Sheridan said.
“There’s always things to improve, but certainly those glaring issues, they need to get corrected,” Sheridan said. “We need to score touchdowns when we get down there.”
Indiana’s defensive depth will be a factor
Junior defensive back Tiawan Mullen missed the entirety of Saturday’s game and senior defensive back Reese Taylor left after one series.
Their replacements, junior Noah Pierre and sophomore Josh Sanguinetti, intercepted one pass each against Michigan State sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne. Allen said Pierre’s play stuck out to him in particular.
Spartan receivers caught six out of nine passes sent their way against Pierre, according to Pro Football Focus, but Pierre prevented them from taking a late lead with an interception in the end zone.
“Nine tackles, huge interception at the end,” Allen said. “No question they were going after him, so proud of him.”
Sanguinetti allowed a single reception for eight yards against Michigan State, and Allen said his role has expanded since playing in relief of Taylor earlier this season, getting more steady playing time.