Indiana made history against Penn State, earning its 800th program win. It desperately needed 801 to come in the next game against Wisconsin.
After wins against Northwestern and Notre Dame were immediately followed by uninspired draws against Michigan and Rutgers, a third opportunity was afforded to convert back-to-back wins in conference.
A 2-1 win resulted in just that, moving Indiana into first place in the Big Ten (pending other results, more on that later). Goals from Tommy Mihalic and Quinten Helmer sealed another three points for IU, and allowed them to be in a good position for the season finale against Maryland on Oct. 30.
Takeaways from a blustery night in Madison:
Consistent threat down the right
Let’s dig into the goals to start.
Inconsistent penetration and threat plagued road matchups against Michigan and Rutgers for Indiana, and was something head coach Todd Yeagley wanted to correct in the third road conference matchup against the Badgers.
Indiana won a back-and-forth opening few minutes after Tommy Mihalic earned a third goal in five matches. The interplay in the right hand side of the attack was a great sign for the Hoosiers.
Nyk Sessock lofted a pass behind the Badger defense, allowing Herbert Endeley to run onto it. A smart touch down beat the defender and afforded him time to pick out the run of Mihalic, who fired home for the first.
Sessock and Endeley earned their seventh and fifth assists of the season respectively. That kind of creative output down the right side has paid dividends, and the opening goal scored in the matchup was a unique one so far.
Solo runs by Endeley, and long throws by Sessock have dominated their assist totals, but this one was distinctive and positive.
The second proved it wasn’t a one-off occurrence.
Sam Sarver played a nice cutback pass to Endeley who drove into a pocket of space, forcing the Badger defense back. They continued backing off until a passing channel opened up for Mihalic, who found space to shoot in front of goal. A heroic goal-saving block by Ryan Keefe for Wisconsin proved for nothing, as Quinten Helmer pounced on the rebound, converting a nice volley.
Again, it was a threat by Endeley down the right after nice play to get him into space, something Indiana needs to do more down the stretch. Finding ways to get both him and Ryan Wittenbrink in space to unbalance defenders is key to moving the attack to the next level.
Inconsistencies at the back
A second, more negative takeaway. Indiana’s goal it conceded was scrappy and ugly.
Not the kind of thing you want to see from a team with its standards and goals, it allowed Wisconsin a relatively unchallenged header in the box, and a relatively unchallenged tap in at the back post. A few lapses in concentration and determination in one sequence allowed Wisconsin a route back into the game.
Indiana responded well with Helmer’s goal, but the impervious defense they sported during the 2020-21 run seems elusive at the moment. The Notre Dame win offered a glimpse of what could be, but it proved to be a one-off, as Indiana conceded four goals in its next two games.
This isn’t to say it dooms Indiana. But Daniel Munie needs more time to regain comfort and his presence as the reigning Big Ten Defender of the Year after his return from injury. The midfield structure needs to be more defined, as Yeagley strikes a balance between a more protective three-man unit (usually consisting of Helmer, Patrick McDonald and Ben Yeagley) and a more attacking lineup featuring just two midfielders and a front four of attackers.
The protection for the backline has been inconsistent. Not to say Indiana is bad defensively, but lapses in concentration led to golden goal defeats to end three straight seasons against UC Santa Barbara, Marshall and Washington.
Big Ten title hopes
Indiana’s win gives the Hoosiers 12 points with one Big Ten match left: Maryland at home on Oct. 30. They sit joint-first with Maryland at the time of writing, with the Terrapins holding a match in hand.
As the Hoosiers prepare for a trio of non-conference games against No. 2 Kentucky, Evansville and Trine, IU fans will cast a watchful eye to matchups across the conference as every other team in the league has at least one match more to play in conference than IU.
Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State hold their own destiny in their own hands, and Indiana needs a combination of results to regain the ability to win the Big Ten regular season in 12 days time. Needless to say, the Hoosiers are trending in the right direction. Three wins and two draws in its last five matchups put them in a solid spot for a high seed, if not a title push.
A golden goal winner from Mihalic won Indiana its penultimate Big Ten match in 2021 against Wisconsin, setting up a title decider against Maryland. That match finished 2-0 in College Park, with a win for the home side.
History may get a chance to repeat itself, only this time, Indiana has a chance to correct it.