Dropped balls. Broken tackles. Late penalties.
It was a performance so reflective of former IU football teams, not of the IU team we were supposed to see this season.
When IU came so close to separating itself from Ball State, the Hoosiers reverted back to their old ways — to “typical Indiana.”
The mistakes that Indiana made weren’t enough to hinder the Hoosiers from overcoming Ball State on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. But it was enough to show that there is still a ways to go before IU head coach Tom Allen gets his program to where he wants it.
“You get better as you go,” Allen said. “We just had two-and-a-half or three hours of live drills. You teach off that and you learn that and practice will be a lot better next week.”
There were plenty of positives in IU’s 34-24 victory over the Cards, even on a day where both sides of the ball were sluggish.
Sophomore running back Stevie Scott had a diving block in the first half to set up a 75-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Michael Penix to senior wide receiver Nick Westbrook.
Senior defensive back Andre Brown had a great open field tackle to stall a Ball State drive in the third quarter — and let go of his man before being called for a penalty.
Plays like those epitomize the culture that Allen is trying to build — sacrificing things for others, but at the same time finishing every play to perfection. There were a lot of things for this team to learn, especially as a handful of players got their first career collegiate starts.
“To be able to win and play sometimes not very good, but get the W and learn from a win is a great feeling,” Allen said. “Learning from an ugly loss really, really stinks. I think we’re going to be a much better football team next week, especially as a whole group.”
“Learning from a win is a great feeling learning from an ugly loss really really stinks.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) August 31, 2019
In a conference like the Big Ten where every game is crucial, IU has to figure out how to help itself rather than hurt.
Soon, Andre Brown won’t be able to afford dropping potential interceptions, as he did Saturday when Ball State was driving late in the game.
Veteran receivers like senior Nick Westbrook and junior Whop Philyor will have to capitalize on wide open touchdown opportunities when given the chance. Drops like those in big moments took the momentum out took the momentum out of Indiana’s offense, ending confidence-building moments for a young quarterback in Penix.
Against Ohio State or Michigan, an unsportsmanlike penalty by junior linebacker Marcelino Ball could make or break a game.
Ball is one of Indiana’s top defenders, has played consistent minutes since he was a freshman, and knows what Allen expects. Ball was tagged for three 15-yard penalties, including a pass interference, unsportsmanlike conduct, and a hands-to-the-face. Allen became so frustrated that he pulled Ball from the field.
“I don’t get it,” Allen said. “To me, it’s just stupid. They’re selfish penalties and that’s why I took him out and ripped his tail for that. We’ll have a nice little week and he’ll never do that again.”
Tom Allen understands that this team will only continue to get better as the season progresses. This was the first time facing an actual team since last November’s loss to Purdue that sent the Hoosiers home for the season.
There will be plenty of chances to fix the mistakes that inhibited Indiana’s attack on Saturday afternoon. But Tom Allen wants his group to know that the costly mistakes can’t go on for too long, because against the nation’s top defenses, there are no second chances.