As boos rained down from the sparse Memorial Stadium crowd late in the third quarter, Indiana football was left with a sobering reality: it’s not where it needs to be.
Despite squeaking by the University of Akron 29-27 Saturday night in an overtime thriller, the Hoosiers exited the field with myriad questions about their red zone offense and ability to compete within the Big Ten conference.
After senior receiver DeQuece Carter hauled in a pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Tayven Jackson to put Indiana ahead in the game’s fourth overtime, there was a palpable sense of relief. Barring a missed 32-yard field goal from Akron redshirt junior kicker Dante Jackson in the waning seconds of the game, the Hoosiers would have been victims of an embarrassing defeat.
“The offense was really, really out of sync,” head coach Tom Allen said after the game. “Not good enough. Not even close.”
While Indiana’s offense excelled in the second half against the University of Louisville Sept. 18, it was largely anemic against an Akron defense that surrendered 35 points to the University of Kentucky last week. Through four quarters on Saturday night, the Hoosiers’ offense mustered just one touchdown.
Indiana found little by way of a successful run game, and its offensive line was frequently being overpowered by the Zips’ front seven. Sophomore running back Jaylin Lucas, Indiana’s most potent weapon, only found 43 yards on the ground in 13 carries for an average of just 3.3 yards per rush.
Midway through the second quarter, the Hoosiers were set up at the Zips’ four-yard line after senior Indiana safety Louis Moore came up with an interception. After four consecutive failed runs, including two wildcat rushes from junior receiver Donovan McCulley, Akron forced a turnover on downs on its own goal line.
Indiana’s red zone woes — which were evident against Louisville — persisted Saturday night. With a little over eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Hoosiers once again found themselves inside Akron’s 10-yard line.
Despite moving to the goal line, Indiana failed on 3rd and short and this time settled for a field goal.
“Probably our worst performance of the season on the offensive line as far as running the football,” Allen said. “We got to block better.”
In a game Indiana was expected to win handily, the lack of offensive execution was glaring. Part of it, Allen and Jackson said, was inadequate focus throughout the week leading up to the game.
Moore, who came up with one of the Hoosiers’ three interceptions Saturday night, felt the team may have overlooked Akron’s talent. Jackson said the team needs to do a better job of refining details throughout the week.
“I think we could take a lack of focus from this game,” Jackson said. “You can never look over an opponent. I think we can do a better job of that.”
Jackson had a fair share of struggles to generate an effective passing attack. The University of Tennessee transfer finished the game 11-26 with 190 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
He missed high on a handful of throws and stared down Akron junior linebacker Andrew Behm on his interception, but his receivers compounded an already struggling passing game with crucial drops.
In the first quarter, a busted coverage in Akron’s secondary sprung McCulley wide open near the left sideline. Jackson fired a pass in his direction, but McCulley too quickly looked to turn up field and saw the ball hit the turf.
The play was perfectly representative of a team whose lack of concentration nearly cost it a win. Regardless, Jackson, who sported a red and black bracelet on his left wrist reading “We > Me” took accountability.
“All the other drops were on me,” Jackson said. “Unless they’re perfect, absolute perfect, throws, then we can talk about it.”
In total, Indiana was outgained 474-282 in total yardage and ran for 92 yards compared to Akron’s 263. Heading into the full conference slate, the Hoosiers are left with plenty of questions.
Whether it be the offensive line or red zone ability, Allen and Indiana understand it isn’t where it needs to be after week four.
Jackson knows something has to change.
“We play a Big Ten team next week,” Jackson said. “And what we did out there tonight is not going to cut it.”