COLUMBUS, Ohio – So, your season is over. Now what?
Indiana football’s 56-14 undressing at the hands of Ohio State on Saturday didn’t come as a surprise — Indiana entered the game as 40.5-point underdogs. But the loss officially drops the Hoosiers to 3-7 and out of bowl eligibility, essentially marking the end of their season.
Already down 21-0 against the Buckeyes, there wasn’t much left to play for, so the Hoosiers turned to the future, and head coach Tom Allen said they’ll continue to do so the rest of the season.
“The experience is invaluable, without question,” Allen said in a postgame press conference. “That’s a big part of it, being able to get guys more experience and more guys developed and improving... Anytime you can get guys that great experience late in the season is a plus.”
After three lackluster drives totaling 15 yards with Connor Bazelak under center, Allen switched his quarterback and put in sophomore Dexter Williams II. The contrast was stark and immediate.
On the first play, Williams scrambled for a 16-yard rush, more than doubling his offense’s total yards and picking up its first first down. A play later, Williams launched a 49-yard completion to junior wide receiver Andison Coby, setting up the offense in the red zone.
The Hoosiers scored just a few plays later when Williams found tight end AJ Barner for six.
“The plan was to definitely play Dex and see how things went with him,” Allen said. “I felt like he was doing a lot of good things, so I felt like we needed to keep him in the game.”
The difference was obvious, if short-lived — Williams’ ability to leave the pocket kept defenders guessing a little longer than they ever did against Bazelak.
Indiana punted on the following three drives and nine times total the rest of the game. However, while still clearly raw and struggling in only his second career appearance, Williams gave a look at Indiana’s potential future — both this season and ones to come.
“He’s an extremely hard worker and I’m just glad he’s able to show what he can do,” Barner said. “It’s something he can build off of, because he played real well but I think he can play even better.”
Williams doesn’t solve many of Indiana’s issues. Through flashes of promise and glimpses of a strong throwing arm, he was only 6-for-19 for 107 yards and two touchdowns. But his deep throws were often on target, including two catches of over 25 yards, and he scrambled for 75 yards, not including sacks. His athleticism provided a new dimension to the play calls.
But until Indiana builds up an offensive line in front of him, he’s largely out of luck. He was sacked on back-to-back plays to end the first half, pulling Indiana out of field-goal range right after Williams’ playmaking put them in it. His arm also fell flat in the second half after starting 5-for-9 in just his second career appearance.
“I didn’t think I played too well,” Williams said. “I mean, I think I did some good things with my legs a couple of times. But I just want to be way more consistent in my throws, so we’ll go back to work this week.”
And no matter how good Williams is, he can’t help the other side of the ball at all. The defense was picked apart by chunk plays. Ohio State had nine rushes of 10 yards or more, including touchdown runs of 48 and 71 yards.
At no point did Ohio State struggle to move the ball against the Indiana defense, even despite punting five times. C.J. Stroud threw for 297 yards and five touchdowns.
“We’re a talented football team but we have to have guys step up,” Allen said. “The execution, to me, was still (bad) even though we had a pretty simple plan to help our guys to get the football surrounded and get guys on the ground.”
Indiana’s season effectively ended Saturday. It’s time to play towards the future, which means Allen and the coaching staff need to see more from Williams, freshman running back Jaylin Lucas and the young, potential stars.
There’s no tanking in college football, which means Indiana needs to show the best it has to try and pull better recruits. The Bazelak experiment didn’t work. Now it’s time for Williams and the youth movement to take over, starting next week at Michigan State.
“I always wanted to help this team,” Williams said. “I didn’t know which way it’d be, if I’d be in there to play for three quarters. Coach Allen called my name today and I went out there and I was ready to play.”