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Indiana stoops to new low, fails to compete against Rutgers

The loudest roars inside Memorial Stadium weren’t spurred by on-field success. There was none. 

Instead, the only energy came from the north corner of the stadium where close to 100 students gathered shirtless, waving their jackets in the air and chanting their rendition of “Seven Nation Army.” The migration to section 19 started late in the second quarter as Indiana trailed 17-0 and sustained through Indiana’s only scoring drive of the game: a seven-play, 61-yard drive culminating in a 47-yard field goal from Charles Campbell. 

But this excitement – and minor glimpse of offensive competence – was short-lived as Indiana failed to compete with Rutgers in any facet, falling 38-3. It was clear from the first snap that Indiana didn’t come ready to play, and as the clock ticked away, an uninspired group was the final product. 

“We let the circumstances drive the energy we played with,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “You can’t let that become the driving force.”

On the first play of the game, quarterback Donaven McCulley took a shotgun snap and held the ball out for running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter. The exchange was mishandled, the ball trickled forward and Rutgers recovered on the Indiana 21-yard line. 

And just four plays later, Isaih Pacheco punched in an 8-yard touchdown and celebrated an early 7-0 lead for the Scarlet Knights.  

“That unfortunately set a tone we didn’t snap out of,” Allen said. 

Indiana responded to this disastrous start with a drive indicative of season-long struggles that have led to its lost season. McCulley marched the Hoosiers down the field, but was unable to connect with Peyton Hendershot on third down. Another trip to the red zone went to waste as Campbell’s kick flew wide left from 35 yards out.

Allen then elected to insert Jack Tuttle under center, but the same problems persisted. Tuttle and the Hoosiers went three and out on the following two possessions, and Tuttle began his third drive with an interception at Indiana’s 25-yard line. 

Tuttle’s final pass of the game came with 9:24 left in the second quarter when he eyed Ty Fryfogle deep down the sideline. Tuttle was driven to the ground as he threw, and his pass was intercepted at the goal line. 

The Hoosiers alternated McCulley and walk-on Grant Gremel for the remainder of the afternoon, but no part of the quarterback carousel led to any solution. McCulley finished the game completing 7 of 20 passes for 98 yards, while Gremel connected on 6 of his 12 attempts for 53 yards.

Before Tuttle left with his second injury of the season, he completed 5 of 10 passes for 26 yards and two interceptions. As a whole, Indiana turned the ball over six times and was unable to force a turnover, defensively. 

“The lack of high-level quarterback play has not been what we wanted,” Allen said. 

Injuries have been a theme of Indiana’s letdown in 2021, and Saturday was no different. Stephen Carr was sidelined with an ankle injury sustained in the Michigan game, forcing walk-ons Davion Ervin-Poindexter, Chris Childers and Charlie Spegal to split carries. The trio combined for 16 carries and 36 yards, which positioned Tuttle as Indiana’s leading rusher with three rushes for 16 yards. 

On the defensive side, starting linebacker and Indiana’s second-leading tackler Cam Jones was inactive with a non-COVID sickness. This left a substantial hole in the middle of Indiana’s defense that allowed Rutgers’ offensive line and Pacheco to set the tone early. Pacheco scored two touchdowns on Rutgers' first three drives and finished the afternoon with 79 yards on 21 attempts. 

The Hoosiers are now 2-8 on the year and remain one of three Power Five schools without a win over a Power Five school. Indiana's final home game is up next week against Minnesota, and the Hoosiers finish the year with the Old Oaken Bucket game on Nov. 27 in West Lafayette. As Indiana limps to the finish line, it has two games to salvage anything left of a season mired by a lack of execution at every level.

“You have to take a strong, hard look at yourself with how you want to be known and remembered,” Allen said.

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