Indiana football was as close to a complete four-quarter game Saturday against Maryland as it had been all season. In each of its three losses, one quarter was the main difference between a tight victory and a large loss.
Once again, Indiana struggled to keep up with an opponent in the fourth quarter. Despite several golden opportunities to take late leads or stop Maryland’s offense, critical mistakes led Indiana to a 38-33 loss, dropping the Hoosiers to 3-4 on the season.
“It’s so frustrating for this pattern to continue,” head coach Tom Allen said in a postgame press conference. “Obviously we've changed so many different things practice-wise, tried to emphasize the strong starts, big things, giving up points. It's not that our guys weren't ready to play. They played hard, were locked in.”
Down just four points in the fourth quarter, Indiana was beginning to piece together a drive that could have ended with the lead. After freshman Jaylin Lucas returned a kickoff for 43 yards, the Hoosiers ran two completed quick-outs to wide receiver Andison Coby.
On the second, instead of stepping out of bounds, Coby cut back towards the field. The ball slipped out of his arms and Maryland recovered. On the Terrapins’ ensuing drive, after a false start pushed them back to third-and-9, they broke open a 46-yard run and made it an 11-point lead four plays later to put the game to bed.
Indiana had one of its fullest performances to date, with its 93 yards in the fourth quarter easily outdoing its five against Nebraska and -12 against Michigan. But its defense couldn’t stop the run, allowing 125 rushing yards to end the game without allowing a completed pass.
And while the Hoosiers attempted an onside kick late, with a chance to go for a lead if they had recovered, the self-inflicted wounds proved to be insurmountable.
“We just have to capitalize on opportunities,” linebacker Aaron Casey said. “We just have to play four quarters and take advantage of opportunities we get.”
Indiana turned the ball over three times on offense and failed to produce a takeaway. Besides Coby’s fumble, quarterback Connor Bazelak threw picks on the first plays of both halves.
“Don't turn the ball over three times, get takeaways, that really was the difference in the game,” Allen said. “Played good enough, well enough to win, but not in those areas. That's what it comes down to in my opinion.”
The Hoosiers also couldn’t stop Billy Edwards Jr., who took over the quarterback spot in the fourth quarter after Taulia Tagovailoa left the game with a leg injury. Edwards ran the ball five times for 53 yards, including a 31-yard downhill run that set Maryland up for the go-ahead score two plays later. After the game, Allen said he wished to have that defensive play call back.
Along with takeaways, the other half of Allen’s big defensive emphasis, tackling, proved to fare just as poorly.
“Several times we had guys right there in the right position to make those plays,” Allen said. “They got to finish them… Man, we've worked extremely hard the last couple weeks on it. Saw some improvement last week. Disappointed in today.”
Indiana’s up-tempo offense has been inconsistent, allowing the team to slice through defenses as much as it goes three-and-out.
“Just having a feeling of being in a rhythm, I feel like once we get to our fist first down of the drive we end up having good success in that drive,” Bazelak said. “We can play fast when we’re in a rhythm.”
Its five longest drives all resulted in scores, including a 17-play, 57-yard drive that ate over five minutes of gametime. Its final drive took just over a minute, but the Hoosiers’ tempo allowed them to roll through the Terrapins’ defense. Two consecutive pass plays went for 25 and 24 yards, although both were tipped by Maryland defenders.
The other half of the Hoosiers’ drives were quickly snuffed out. Besides the three turnovers, they had two three-and-outs which lasted for less than two minutes.
“It was one of the best games as far as tempo and moving the ball,” wide receiver Cam Camper said. “Minus the turnovers, I think we played our best ball.”
The message from Tom Allen and his players has been consistent all season: They need to finish plays, execute their gameplan and play a complete four quarters.
After seven weeks, with the likelihood of bowl eligibility all but eliminated and a road game against Rutgers next Saturday, Indiana still hasn’t come closer to reaching any of those goals.
“To me, it's just about having a finishing mindset, finishing mentality,” Allen said. “We had ourselves in position to do that and we didn't do that. That's what makes this really, really disappointing.”