BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's defense remains an Achilles heel no amount of coaching, recruiting and scheming can apparently fix.
Don't believe it? Consider the Hoosiers' 41-35 loss to Navy Saturday night.
IU (1-1) allowed the Midshipmen (1-0) to run at will, and score at will. They rushed for 444 yards and totaled 515, which is the norm for the Hoosiers against FBS opponents these days.
In the Hoosiers' final three games last year, they gave up 605 total yards to Wisconsin, 546 to Penn State and 558 to Purdue. The point totals -- 62 for Wisconsin, 45 for Penn State, 56 for Purdue.
Still, it came down to whichever team had the last possession and an IU on-side kick it nearly recovered.
“Tonight was so close,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said, “but we're not playing horseshoes. We've got to find the Ws.”
The Hoosiers KNEW Navy would run out of its flex triple option attack. They'd lost to Navy last year 31-30. They'd had two extra days to prepare for it, thanks to an Aug. 29 game with Indiana State, after having worked on it during the spring and preseason camp.
It didn't matter. The Midshipmen, in their season opener on the road, did what they wanted on the ground. And when they finally did pass, after 34 straight runs, they went to a wide-open Casey Bolena for a 47-yard gain to set up a second-quarter touchdown.
"We didn't come out nearly as ready to play as we needed to," safety Greg Heban said.
Offensively IU came up big. It finished with 481 yards, and would have been more if it could have gotten one last possession.
Still, a game it could have won, needed to win for bowl possibilities and turn-the-program-around hopes, became another case of what might have been.
“It's not a perfect game,” Wilson said. “We were battling, scratching and fighting. I have a lot of respect for those guys in the locker room. They could have tanked.
“We didn't come out ready. I have to look at why.”
Indiana did seem to find a starting quarterback, although Wilson wasn't ready to announce it. Sophomore Nate Sudfeld came in for IU's third series and finished 31-for-42 for 363 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
"I thought we needed to throw a little bit more, but moving forward, we'll look at our plan and how to do that," Wilson said.
IU opened with Tre Roberson at quarterback. The Hoosiers did nothing in his two series. Navy, meanwhile, got touchdown runs of 1-yard by quarterback Keenan Reynolds and 3 yards by Chris Swain for a 14-0 first quarter lead.
Sudfeld took over and drove the Hoosiers into the red zone. But he under threw an open receiver and was intercepted. That led to a Midshipmen field goal and a 17-0 lead.
IU came back with Sudfeld's 45-yard touchdown pass to Kofi Hughes. Navy responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive and a 24-7 lead. The Hoosiers scored again on Sudfeld's 6-yard TD pass to tight end Ted Bolser for a 24-14 halftime score.
They seemed to have momentum. They did not. Navy opened the second half with Reynold's 2-yard touchdown run and a 31-14 lead
IU responded with tailback Tevin Coleman's 7-yard touchdown run. Navy came back with Reynold's 1-yard touchdown run and a 38-21 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter Sudfeld hit Shane Wynn with a TD pass to cut the lead back to 10. Nick Sloan's field goal made it 41-28. IU had basically eight minutes to rally.
Sudfeld's TD pass to Bolser made it 41-35. The Hoosiers needed one defensive stop.
They didn't get it.
They have a week to stew about it before hosting Bowling Green next Saturday.
“The real deal is moving forward,” Wilson said. “We won't see this (Navy's offense) anymore. We put umpteen hours into it because it's difficult, and we were seven points short in two years. The real deal is what we need to do against Bowling Green.”