Allen tries to address O-line issues after loss to No. 4 Michigan

BLOOMINGTON — The job description for offensive linemen in football and the Secret Service is similar. The protectors are supposed to shield the main man and if someone dives into a crowd they are supposed to open holes.

That message is not getting through to the Indiana University line. The guards, tackles and center are not keeping the pressure off quarterback Connor Bazelak and they are not giving the running backs room without getting swarmed.

Failure to carry out those assignments was a major reason the Indiana Hoosiers lost to Michigan, 31-10, Saturday. It was otherwise a grand day for college football, with 50,000-plus in Memorial Stadium, crisp temperatures, and a backdrop of fall foliage.

Bazelak, counted on to stand and throw, was sacked seven times and regardless of which running back, Shaun Shivers, Josh Henderson or Jaylin Lucas, was handed the ball they were sealed off in a panic room.

Indiana coach Tom Allen agreed with this assessment because Sunday he fired Darren Hiller as offensive line coach and run-game coordinator and replaced him with Rod Carey, a former IU player and this season quality control coach.

Saturday, at half-time, the 3-3 Hoosiers were even, 10-10, against the Wolverines (6-0), who came into the game ranked No. 4. But Michigan folded up IU’s offense. The Hoosiers just couldn’t make things happen offensively.

“Obviously, it starts up front,” Allen said after the game when he had virtually lost his voice from yelling. “Got to protect. Not getting the job done there and we’ve got to look at that really hard.”

Clearly, based on Allen’s abrupt action a day later, he was more than a little concerned about the offensive line and felt things could not wait a moment longer.

Bazelak helms a hurry-up offense, but if IU goes three-and-out because he has no time to throw and backs have nowhere to run, then the possession is over fast and it ramps up pressure on the defense. Those types of series led to Michigan’s time-of-possession advantage of 37:53 to 22:07.

After starting 3-0, the Hoosiers are into the meat of their Big Ten schedule and have been exposed as a team with flaws (plus, injuries, including star linebacker Cam Jones).

Michigan was burned by 10 penalties for 85 yards, but it was IU that had a touchdown called back on a penalty when the game was close.

Bazelak was cautious speaking about the O-line. He referred to the linemen as his “brothers,” and didn’t throw them under the bus. Problem was, Bazelak was already under the bus, or at least an avalanche of large Wolverine defenders.

Going into the season, IU had a two-quarterback fight to start. Veteran Jack Tuttle was the other guy, who has become the forgotten guy, and has not played a minute after the supposedly tight battle for the job.

It Allen drifts into try-anything-mode maybe Tuttle will get a shot. When asked, Allen did not dismiss the notion as off-the-wall.

At its best, in the first half, the Hoosiers’ defense contained Michigan’s Blake Corum, one of the leading backs in the league, and perhaps the country. The Wolverines were also stunned when running backs coach Mike Hart suffered a seizure on the sideline in the first quarter and had to be rushed to the hospital. Hart is a former IU assistant and is close to Allen.

Eventually, it became known Hart was in stable condition, and, it turned out, so was the Michigan running game with Corum gathering 124 yards and a touchdown.

“Indiana did a really good job of taking away the run game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said, “trying to limit it as much as possible. Blake is such a great back that he’s rushed for 125-130 yards again. He’s just so good.”

Maybe the 21-point loss was Indiana’s fault, or maybe Michigan was just that good. Replacing an assistant coach mid-season is a rarity, but this situation screamed out for emergency treatment. Allen either applied a curative medication of the offensive line, or a band-aid. It is too soon to tell.

Right now, with an imposing schedule remaining, the Hoosiers must guard against is freefall. This sudden coaching change was a sorely needed shake-up.

“We’ve just got to work on finishing,” said defensive back Devon Matthews, who had an interception. No more just staying close for a while.

“We’ve just got to come out and finally win. That’s it.”

And maybe Carey needs to conduct an immediate get-to-know-you session for the offensive linemen with the backfield.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]