Indiana football’s offense took over at the 25-yard line trailing by 5 points with 8:31 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. It had a chance to respond to No. 10 Michigan State graduate student kicker Matt Coghlin’s made field goal and to break out of an offensive slump plaguing its three Big Ten games.
The Hoosiers rushed on first down for one yard. On second down, junior quarterback Jack Tuttle threw to senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, but the pass was broken up. The third down play fell apart, and Tuttle threw the ball away. After three plays and one yard gained, the Hoosiers sent out freshman punter James Evans to boot it back to the Spartans.
It was not the last offensive drive Indiana had in its 20-15 loss to Michigan State on Saturday in Bloomington, but it was emblematic of everything it needed to do right and did do wrong as it fell to 2-4 on the year.
“We just got to finish, period point blank,” graduate student running back Stephen Carr said in a postgame press conference. “The stats look like this, so lopsided, we got to finish.”
Indiana’s offense scored one touchdown and failed to convert the 2-point conversion. Despite outgaining Michigan State by 81 yards, converting 10 more first downs and committing 99 fewer penalty yards, Indiana surrendered the lead in the first quarter on a pick-six and never took it back.
Michigan State junior running back Kenneth Walker III came into the game first in the nation in rushing yards per game with 152.2. Indiana held him to 84, an average per carry of 3.7. Sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne threw for 339 yards last week in Michigan State’s 31-13 victory over Rutgers. Indiana’s defense held him to 126 yards, his lowest output of the season.
“I thought our defense played awesome,” head coach Tom Allen said. “They did everything you could ask them to do, except maybe score.”
Scoring from the defense would have benefitted a Hoosier offense that’s been unable to find the end zone all season. After scoring nearly 30 points per game last season, the Hoosiers average 22.3 in 2021. Nearly half of their 134 points came in a 56-14 win over the University of Idaho.
Going into Saturday’s game, the offense was without a touchdown against Big Ten teams this season.
It took until the fourth quarter for Indiana to break the 11-quarter Big Ten touchdown drought. Graduate student running back Stephen Carr took a pitch from Tuttle and dove across the goal line to bring Indiana within two points. Michigan State stuffed Indiana’s two-point conversion attempt.
In his first start of the season, Tuttle completed 28 passes on 52 attempts for 188 yards. He missed the mark on his last eight attempts, including one on fourth down securing Michigan State’s victory.
“It has more to do with execution by the offense as a whole,” Tuttle said. “Just knowing where you’re going to sit down is your responsibility as a position player, and I think all of us can do a better job and tighten up, including myself.”
Although Indiana scored on all three trips to the red zone, two of its drives ended with field goals — a 24-yarder in the first quarter and a 25-yarder in the second. Junior kicker Charles Campbell has accounted for 31% of Indiana’s total points this season.
On 24 red zone trips this year, Indiana has only scored touchdowns on 12 of them. Seven have ended in field goals, an efficiency rating of 79.1% which puts Indiana just above Nebraska, who is 99th in the country. The offense’s inability to score from within the red zone has crushed them all season.
“We’ve got to evaluate why we’re not executing in those critical situations,” Allen said. “You feel good about certain things coming off the bye week, which I did, but it continued to be the same issues as far as finishing drives in the red zone. Moving the football, but not getting touchdowns.”
Indiana football’s defense has done everything within its power to win Indiana a game, but the offense needs to score first.
“I gotta go back and evaluate the play calling and see where that’s all at,” Allen said. “It’s part of the evaluation. You have to take a good look at everything, you’re there to win games. That’s the bottom line.”
Indiana will play No. 7 Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday in Bloomington. The game will be broadcasted on ABC’s Saturday Night Football.