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Quarterback Connor Bazelak takes a snap against Cincinnati on Sept. 24. Bazelak had his highest completion percentage of the season against Maryland on Saturday.
Quarterback Connor Bazelak takes a snap against Cincinnati on Sept. 24. Bazelak had his highest completion percentage of the season against Maryland on Saturday.

Indiana football notebook: Hoosiers address tackling, won’t reevaluate quarterbacks before Rutgers

Jack Tuttle remains the backup despite announcing his intention to transfer

Indiana football had chances to close out a victory against Maryland on Saturday and return to the win column. But the Hoosiers didn’t take advantage, falling 38-33 in their fourth straight loss.

As Indiana heads to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Rutgers this week, head coach Tom Allen said his team’s defense — the unit that was expected to be Indiana’s best this season  — has been a disappointment. 

At his weekly Monday press conference, Allen talked about how the team will address tackling problems, the improvement of his starting quarterback and how he’s handling his backup quarterback announcing his intention to transfer.

Tackling remains an issue

The Hoosiers had one of their worst tackling performances of the season against the Terrapins, and Allen is adjusting how the team practices to react.

Indiana missed 17 tackles. Several times, it had Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa wrapped up in the backfield, only to see him escape a sack.

“We knew on film that he was a very difficult quarterback to keep in the pocket,” Allen said. “And we missed him several times. But that, to me, is still once again continuing to work on that and angles and anticipation.”

Allen said the team will practice tackling live heading into Rutgers, rather than just tackling dummies, in order to get the game-speed feel of players trying to break tackles.

The Hoosiers slowed down live tackling in practice this season to avoid injuries, but with their issues taking players to the ground this year, Allen said the team needs change. The defense is rated 116th in the country in tackling, according to Pro Football Focus, and has missed 95 total tackles this season.

“It's about finishing plays,” Allen said. “Whether it's proper leverage… a technique we use all the time, work on every single week, multiple times a week and just getting guys on the ground.”

Tuttle to transfer after season

Backup quarterback Jack Tuttle announced his intention to transfer at the end of the season on Monday. 

Tuttle, who originally played at Utah before transferring to Indiana in 2019, started four games for the Hoosiers in the last two seasons. He hasn’t appeared in a game this season.

“He's been a great leader for us. He's been a great teammate,” Allen said. “I don't expect that to change. And he and I are on the same page with that. He's going to finish out with our team and do everything the right way, as he's always done.”

Tuttle is 95-for-170 in his career, with 819 passing yards and four touchdown passes.

Despite announcing his intention to leave the program, Allen said Monday the quarterback situation hasn’t changed, and Tuttle is still the backup to Connor Bazelak.

Allen also said he expects situations like this to become more commonplace in college football.

“We're not used to this kind of thought process necessarily collegiately,” Allen said. “But for guys that have already graduated and gotten their degree, I can see that being the case. So, yeah, I do think moving forward you'll see more of this. It's kind of the reality of the new world that we're in with college sports.”

Bazelak shows improvement, despite mistakes

On the first play of Saturday’s game, Maryland’s defense picked off a quarterback Connor Bazelak pass. He threw another pick to start the second half.

Allen said those decisions were negatives for the team. Maryland turned those interceptions into 10 points, a major plus in a game it won by five.

Despite those throws, Bazelak had his most efficient of the season.

“(Turning the ball over) was very costly. But outside of that, he played really well,” Allen said. “And so you can't just throw everything out because you make a couple mistakes.”

The junior threw for 292 yards, just short of his third 300-yard game of the season. He was 29-for-42 for a 69% completion rate — his highest of the season by far, surpassing the 60% mark he had against Western Kentucky.

He also hauled in a 23-yard pass from quarterback-turned-wide receiver Donaven McCulley on a Philly special — the first catch he remembers having in his football career.

“We’ve been practicing that play,” Bazelak said after the game Saturday. “I actually dropped the ball in practice on Tuesday. I was just making sure I secured the catch for Donaven.”

He also nearly had a touchdown, his first since running the ball in against Georgia while with Missouri in 2020, but was pushed out at the three-yard line.

“I really wanted to get in until I saw two guys at the pylon and thought it would be best if I didn’t blow out a shoulder or something,” Bazelak said.

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