It felt like a familiar script for Indiana football Saturday, entering halftime tied against a highly-ranked team in Memorial Stadium.
Time and time again, Indiana has faced down this same situation just to fall short of an upset in the end. It was no different this season against No. 4 Michigan, which scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to leave Bloomington with a 31-10 victory.
“We just have to find a way, no matter the circumstance,” quarterback Connor Bazelak said in a postgame press conference. “Starting in the fourth quarter, we were down seven, right where we wanted to be. We just have to be better in the fourth quarter and second half in general.”
Indiana entered Saturday without four of its top players, including wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr. and linebacker Cam Jones. For a while, the Hoosiers matched the Wolverines step for step and blocked field goal for blocked field goal, entering halftime in a 10-10 deadlock.
But by the fourth quarter, with an offense that could produce nothing with consistency and a defense that spent 38 minutes on the field, Michigan finally put the upset chances to bed.
“Had a chance in the fourth quarter to go against the fourth-ranked team in the country, and you get a chance to be able to be in the fourth quarter, go find a way to win, and we didn’t finish,” head coach Tom Allen said. “Highly disappointing. Offensively, not scoring any points in the second half, two weeks in a row of that, it’s gotta change.”
Once again, Indiana’s inability to play a full four quarters of football doomed the team. The Hoosiers’ second half produced just 29 total yards, including -12 in the fourth quarter. After having success throwing quick passes and screens in the first half, Bazelak said Michigan adjusted to take those options away in the second half.
After starting 10-for-13 for 99 yards, Connor Bazelak’s stat line dipped late, and he finished 25-for-49 for 203 yards. He also took six sacks, a number which would have been much higher had he not thrown several balls to the sidelines.
“A lot of it was pretty simple stuff,” Bazelak said. “Four-man, five-man rushes. I don’t think they brought a bunch of new pressures and exotic stuff.”
The offensive line was closer to a turnstile than a wall Saturday. The Wolverines had an additional four quarterback hurries on top of its seven sacks, and Bazelak rarely had time to let offensive plays develop. On the ground, the Hoosiers had 80 rush yards before accounting for the negative yards on sacks.
Still, Bazelak said the offensive line has been working hard during practices week in and week out.
“They're fighting out there,” Bazelak said. “Those are my brothers. I love them, and I'm never going to say anything bad about them."
The Hoosiers’ run defense sparkled for most of the afternoon. Outside of one long 50-yard rush to open the game, the Hoosiers held running back Blake Corum to 74 yards on 24 rushes.
“We knew Michigan had a great back, so we knew we just had to keep them contained as long as we could because then we had a chance to win the game,” defensive back Devon Matthews said.
With Jones out, Indiana turned to Bradley Jennings Jr. to fill in his spots. Jennings led Indiana with 13 tackles and tipped a pass, leading to a Matthews interception in the end zone to maintain a one score deficit, 17-10.
But Jones’ presence was notable for Indiana, who had to adjust to his absence.
“You lose your best player, he’s not just the leader of our team, he’s the heart of our defense,” Allen said. “It’s a big blow any time you lose a guy like that.”
Indiana was far from expected to compete, even before it lost four of its top players before the game. But an inspiring first half soured in the second half. A more talented team in Michigan outlasted Indiana, and that was the difference.
Next week, Indiana returns to Memorial Stadium to play Maryland. To keep up with the Big Ten’s No. 3 offense, the Hoosiers will have to try something different, Allen said.
“The last two weeks, our offensive staff has not done a good job making those adjustments,” Allen said. “The proof is in the pudding. We haven’t scored points in the second half. It is what it is, you can call it what you want, but those adjustments have to be made.”