In the third quarter of Indiana’s 42-16 loss, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley dropped back to pass on play action. He had ample time, and found tight end T.J. Hockenson on an outside post pattern. Indiana safety Juwan Burgess trailed behind. He dove at Hockenson’s ankles to no avail, and the 6-foot-5, 250 pound tight end scored from 54 yards out to give Iowa a commanding 35-10 lead.
There were many plays that were similar. Indiana’s defense missed countless tackles on Saturday. They allowed Iowa’s elite tight ends to combine for eight receptions, 208 yards, and three touchdowns. The Hoosiers committed ten penalties, a season high. Stanley threw for six passing touchdowns, and evaded many potential sacks. It was the worst defensive performance of the season, according to senior safety Jonathan Crawford.
“Bad.” Crawford said of grading the IU tackling. “D? I don’t know, F? It was the worst. It was the worst game I’ve felt we’ve played as a defense.”
The narrative of this season has changed. The competition has risen, yes. But Indiana was not missing routine tackles and sack opportunities against Virginia. Aside from a a few quarterback pressures, including an early interception by Thomas Allen, Stanley worked in a very comfortable pocket. Allen’s interception injected life into the IU cause, as the Hawkeyes were driving and could have made it a 21-3 game early. Instead, Indiana took over and Peyton Ramsey found Ty Fryfogle for a 33-yard touchdown. It was suddenly a 14-10 game, even though Indiana had played sloppy.
“I’m really disappointed in that,” Allen said of the tackling. “We take so much pride in that, work so hard in that. Just, those guys are big and physical, and we kind of bounced off them a few times, and that’s disappointing.”
Iowa scored the next 21 points, marching down the field and taking advantage of a sputtering IU offense. The Hoosiers only completed two passing plays longer than 20 yards. They averaged 2.7 yards per rush, and Saturday’s offensive performance felt similar to Indiana’s loss against Michigan State. The offense could not stretch the field, and failed to execute in critical moments. Before halftime, Indiana failed to convert on 4th-and-1 as Ramsey did not see an open Peyton Hendershot. The Hoosiers could have cut their halftime deficit to 21-13 with a field goal, or 21-17 with a touchdown. Instead, Iowa led 21-10 and opened the flood gates.
Optimism was a legitimate feeling in Bloomington following a 4-2 start, respectable outing in Columbus, and the commitment of 4-star Avon running back Sampson James. The wind in IU’s sails is now gone. The Hoosiers have lost two straight and face Penn State on Saturday. Indiana’s loss to Iowa is not worthy of a funeral for this 2018 campaign. There is plenty of football to be played, however the path to bowl eligibility took a hit Saturday. Future winnable opponents, Minnesota, Purdue, and Maryland, have appeared competent in recent weeks. Indiana, quite frankly, has not. The Hoosiers look younger than ever on defense, and lacked the offensive explosion that was seen against Ohio State.
“Disappointed in how we performed, absolutely,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “Just weren’t good enough today, and that’s all on me. It’s my responsibility to get our team ready to compete and play at the highest level, and based on how we performed throughout the game, it wasn’t to our standard.”