Where does Indiana’s offense go from here?
After an inefficient performance at Cincinnati, IU (3-2, 1-1 B1G) strung together a meager two touchdown drives against the Big Ten’s worst defense, falling at Nebraska (2-3, 1-1 B1G), 35-21. It was Nebraska’s Homecoming game, in front of an NCAA-leading 386th consecutive sellout crowd.
Before the primetime contest, there was some surprising news as WR Cam Camper, IU’s top wideout and one of the best thus far in the Big Ten, did not go through warmups. Per reports, Camper missed the game due to illness. WR D.J. Matthews Jr. was held out as well, after suffering an injury at Cincinnati.
IU’s much-maligned offensive line had two changes as well. Zach Carpenter rejoined the starting unit after missing the last two games. He came in at guard, while guard Mike Katic moved over to center. On the Nebraska side, it was interim coach Mickey Joseph’s second game in charge, as well as Bill Busch’s first as the Huskers’ defensive coordinator.
For all the conversation about IU starting fast, they did the exact opposite in Lincoln. Before the first snap of the game, Tom Allen had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game, an inauspicious sign of things to come.
After IU went three-and-out, Nebraska’s offense went to work. QB Casey Thompson, a Texas transfer, connected twice with WR Oliver Martin, who previously played at Michigan and Iowa, including a 39-yard touchdown.
Indiana punted on its first six drives against a defense that Northwestern, Georgia Southern, and Oklahoma repeatedly exposed through three games. GSU punted just once all game on Sept. 10, and Oklahoma punted just three times, for reference.
During the offense’s skid, IU scored on defense for the first time in three seasons. With Thompson off the field, DB Louis Moore and LB Cam Jones hit backup QB Chubba Pardy, knocking the ball loose. DE Myles Jackson pounced on the pigskin in the end zone to tie things at seven.
Indiana’s special teams unit conceded a score shortly afterwards. James Evans saw his punt blocked by Chris Kolarevic, and freshman Malcolm Hartzog sprinted home uncontested for 30 yards. It’s the second consecutive game IU gave up a non-offensive score.
After Nebraska took a 21-7 lead, IU’s offense finally kicked into gear. Bazelak found Javon Swinton for a long gain down the right sideline, and the Hoosiers drew within one score after Bazelak hit Emery Simmons for the TD.
After Nebraska LT Turner Corcoran was ejected for throwing a punch at Aaron Casey, Indiana stayed hot offensively. Jaylin Lucas had an electrifying 34-yard run that forced two defenders to miss, and Shaun Shivers ended the drive with his 5th TD this season.
Penalties, such as the one that disqualified Corcoran, rained down upon the Huskers and Hoosiers, especially during the first three quarters. The officials called nine on IU for 65 yards through that point; meanwhile, Nebraska committed 12 for 111. Still, with player safety in football under a brighter light as of late, the officials missed an evident targeting call on a hit by Nebraska’s Luke Reimer on Swinton. The play resulted in a Reimer interception.
Indiana’s defense would respond immediately. Bryant Fitzgerald, who had an excellent game, intercepted a Thompson pass inside the Nebraska one-yard line. In Fitzgerald’s 50th career game, he picked off his fourth career pass, recorded eight tackles, and forced a fumble that Nebraska recovered.
The Huskers broke the second half seal with a bomb from Thompson to Trey Palmer with 13:43 left in the game. The catch gave Palmer, a transfer from LSU, a career-high in yards in a single game. True freshman Phillip Dunnam was in coverage, as Jaylin Williams had exited earlier with a shoulder injury.
Prior to that play, James Head Jr. hit Thompson hard, and Thompson needed to visit the medical tent. Ultimately, Thompson missed just one play and found another level after returning.
Indiana’s offense never hit its stride in the second half. Poor field position played a role, but Bazelak missed Simmons on a deep ball, and Malachi Holt-Bennett lost control of a pass after his elbow landed inbounds. Lucas never saw the ball come his way after his impressive carry late in the second quarter.
Overall, IU’s offense severely struggled after a strong second quarter. Time will tell what changes the Hoosiers make headed into next week.
Thompson ended a 12-yard drive with a one-yard keeper, which effectively sealed the deal.
Indiana’s next contest is in a week against No. 4 Michigan. FOX has selected the game for its “Big Noon Kickoff” and will have their pregame crew in Bloomington. Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt will have the call.
Photo by Nebraska Communications