Hoosiers offense struggles against Rutgers; IU football column for Week 8


BLOOMINGTON — Although it was a beautiful, sunny, 65-degree day for college football, Saturday, Indiana University’s offense spent its limited time of possession performing like a car stuck in a snowbank without four-wheel drive.

Couple that with a defense that just flat-out could not stop Rutgers’ running game and it made for a long afternoon at Memorial Stadium, a painful, 31-14 defeat that dropped a mood of depression on the Hoosiers’ Big Ten season.

And compared to a schedule chock full of highly ranked teams, the Scarlet Knights seemed like a potentially beatable opponent. Nope. Failure to move the ball, coupled with big special teams’ mistakes, doomed IU to its 2-5 record.

Even usually optimistic coach Tom Allen, who almost always seems like a loss for words post-game because he loses his voice shouting on the sidelines, seemed to be at a true loss for upbeat commentary.


When a reporter cautiously asked if things felt as if they were slipping away, basically, Allen said, Heck yeah. It was a delicately phrased question to describe a circumstance that could already be said to have skidded over a cliff.

“There’s no question,” Allen said, “I don’t think I feel it. I think it’s a reality you get to this stage of the year and you have this many losses. It falls on me. I’m the one in charge. It falls on me.”

For the first time in 2023, redshirt freshman Brendan Sorsby started at quarterback and played the entire game in that role, relegating Tayven Jackson, the other main contender for the job, on the bench for the duration.

It didn’t matter. Rutgers, at 6-2 having one of its better seasons in years, was not masquerading as No. 2 ranked Michigan, No. 3 ranked Ohio State, or upcoming highly ranked Penn State. Nor did the Scarlet Knights look as explosive.

Yet the Hoosiers could not contain Rutgers’ running game. Quarterback Gavin Wimsatt rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns, including one on an 80-yard burst, and Kyle Monangai ran for 109 more yards. Time of possession was 37 ½ minutes for Rutgers to 22 1/2, symbolic of IU stretches of three downs and out. Plus, just 156 yards gained rushing and 126 passing.

That shortage was compounded by two humongous mistakes. Punter James Evans, who some weeks seems to be the Hoosiers’ best player, was the goat on a play not of his making. Rutgers blocked a boot, picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone 17 yards for a touchdown. This might have been IU’s worst play of the year.

“Just too many mistakes,” Allen said.

Illustrating what he can do when he is not pestered, Evans subsequently recorded punts of 66 yards and 70 yards.

Another self-inflicted owie was a fumbled punt by Jaylin Lucas that allowed Rutgers to put up a 21-yard field goal just before half-time for a 17-14 lead.

Up until then, although the Hoosiers hardly looked like a super team, they were in the game. The sweetest play was a 35-yard first-quarter touchdown heave from Sorsby to Omar Cooper Jr., on a fourth-and-eight yet.

That gave IU a 7-0 lead, but that was as good as Indiana looked all day. Not being able to sustain drives, except for the 75-yard opening-game push down the field, was a killer and nobody knows that better than Sorsby.

“We’ve just got to make plays when we’re out there,” he said, admitting that three-and-out doesn’t cut it.

There isn’t a team in America that doesn’t believe it can be a winner when the season starts, but there isn’t a team in America sitting with a 2-5 record that can do enough in the way of sugarcoating to pretend things are OK.

“Everybody is down,” Sorsby said. “But we’ve got to stay together.”

Some players made brave comments about winning the remainder of the games on the schedule and still becoming bowl eligible, though that sounds more like an athlete’s inner bravado, bordering on fantasy, than any likelihood of reality taking hold.

“There’s always a chance,” Sorsby said of the team rebounding and winning all five games left.

Saturday was homecoming, but as Rutgers solidified its lead and Indiana failed to mount a semblance of a comeback to lift spirits, many fans chose to go home early and like Sorsby and other players save their hope and optimism for another day.

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