BLOOMINGTON -- So what's up with Indiana football in the aftermath of yet another Ball State defeat?
Defense, of course. That's been a problem since, well, when hasn't it been a problem?
The Hoosiers scored 39 points on Saturday night and it wasn't enough. They totaled 558 yards on 87 plays and still couldn't win. They had a 100-yard rusher (Stephen Houston had 102), a 100-yard receiver (Cody Latimer had 115) and two quarterbacks throw for at least 172 yards (Cam Coffman had 251, Nate Sudfeld had 172) and blew it.
Sure, IU can handle the Indiana States and Massachusetts of the college world. But when it faces the bigger boys, and if you saw the size of Ball State's offensive and defensive lines, you know the Cardinals qualify, life gets more complex.
Still, all the Hoosiers had to do was hold the Cardinals to less than 40 yards of offense in the final 40 seconds. All they needed was to make one more defensive play. A sack would have been nice given they never sacked Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning despite entering the game as the Big Ten leader, with eight.
It didn't happen.
For those counting, the 41-39 loss was IU's third straight to Ball State, which will never be confused with, say, Ohio State.
The Hoosiers (2-1) have two weeks to steam over it. They have a bye week before opening Big Ten play at unbeaten Northwestern, which already has a 42-point game on its season resume.
IU will be ready, running back Stephen Houston says.
“We're just staying positive. We don't have our heads down. Ball State is a good team, but the game is behind us. We're moving on to Northwestern. We're going to play our best against them.”
To reach that best, consider Saturday night's second half. That's the key. That's the bottom line problem that has to get fixed.
Yes, IU found magic in the final four minutes with the help of a suddenly inept Ball State secondary (one HUGE blown coverage, three pass interference penalties).
The much maligned defense found the resolve to stuff a crucial Cardinal third down run and force a punt.
Then the Hoosiers did what they always do in these football situations -- found a way to lose.
The big issue is that for the first 26 second-half minutes they did nothing on offense or defense. Ball State coaches made game-changing adjustments at halftime with Indiana leading 25-24. IU coaches, according to boss Kevin Wilson, ranted.
"You go in at halftime, I had some coaches yelling at kids," Wilson said. "I'm looking at the stats, it's 350 (IU's halftime total yards) to 180 (Ball State's total), calm down. If we don't have seven penalties, we're waxing them. We missed a couple tackles, but man, they got decent players over there. They do a nice job.”
All coaches talk about “hard coaching” and “coaching them up” and “challenging” players. Former Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady often talked about the importance of players being able to “take coaching.”
A lot of times that means yelling and cursing, old-school stuff treated in these politically correct times as if coaches were violating the Geneva Convention. No matter. It's a balancing act to be demanding and sensitive, especially in a sport as passionate and violent as football.
Ball State coaches won that balancing act, and then the game. Someday, we might say the same thing about Wilson and his staff.
Just not today.
"Not to get the stop at the end, not to get some stops earlier and really to play very, very poor in the third quarter, I have to look at it as me,” Wilson said. “I have to look at coaches.”
"I can tell you, I look at our kids and I love the way they're practicing. We had a phenomenal week, the way they worked. I like the way they were in the locker room. We're changing the mindset with those kids. They're getting better, but as coaches, we didn't do a good job. We didn't do a good job at halftime making adjustments. We just kind of laid an egg and that's on me."
"When I look at my guys -- and this isn't coach speak because I don't coach speak -- when my guys are practicing as hard as they can play, when I've got some nice leaders giving us some great energy, when I've got guys looking you in the eye, got guys on their toes, minding their Ps and Qs, doing things the right way, when my kids are doing it right and we're coming up short, I've got to make sure we're asking them to do the right things.
"We're all in this together. You can cast stones. I don't cast a whole bunch. We point a lot of thumbs at ourselves, and it starts with me. We'll keep doing a better job. I've got a lot of respect for Ball State, but I've got a lot of respect for this young football team."
And finally, for those outsiders who don't believe IU will find the winning edge, he offered this:
“We're putting a team together. We didn't fold up. We didn't make a play, but we didn't fold up. Those days are gone. It's changing.”
Change has to mean victory. That's the bottom line.