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Sluggish starts prove costly for Indiana

October 22, 2016: Northwestern Wildcat
Jerome Lynch/Icon Sportswire

Some people believe it’s not how you start but how you finish that’s most important. They’re not watching Indiana football.

The Hoosiers fell behind 17-0 after one quarter in losing to Nebraska, 27-22, two weeks ago. This past Saturday, in a 24-14 setback to Northwestern, they trailed 24-3 less than 16 minutes into the game.

“We’re down three scores in our last two games out of the gate. We’re playing catch-up. We can’t do that,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson told reporters Monday in Bloomington. “I think we’re thinking a little too much. We’ve got to start a little bit faster, and we’ll move forward with that.”

The Hoosiers (3-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) play host to Maryland (5-2, 2-2) Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

A typically explosive offense has been sputtering. Through four Big Ten games, it’s averaging 18.3 points per game, second fewest in the conference to Rutgers (9.2). Last season, it ranked second in league games at 35.1. Ohio State (35.3) paced the conference.

At Northwestern Saturday, the Hoosiers went three and out on their first two possessions. The Wildcats scored on both of their first two drives.

“I think the offense’s inability to get going early really hurt the defense because I don’t think our defense had time to make the adjustments,” Wilson said. “Once we got the adjustments in the second quarter and the offense got going, it really helped the defense. So I think the offense’s ineptness early really led to them getting up 21-3.”

First-year starting quarterback Richard Lagow has struggled following a strong non-conference run. In Big Ten play, he’s thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions after his two-pick, no-score performance in Evanston.

Wilson was asked Monday if he’s considering a quarterback change.

“It’s Rich. Everything’s open, but he’s the guy,” the coach said.

Wilson attributes some of Lagow’s struggles to being under pressure and the inability to generate a consistent rushing attack. Indiana’s 106.8 yards on the ground during conference play is second worst in the league to Purdue (78.0).

“When you’re one-dimensional, it’s easy to tee off on the quarterback, it’s easy to rush in the pocket. To me, it all goes back to line of scrimmage play, tight end play, running back play,” Wilson said. “If you run the ball four weeks in a row, you run it 60, 70, 80 yards, so when you’re a one-dimensional team, you’re easy to defend.”

The Hoosiers had been without all-American offensive lineman Dan Feeney, who missed almost six weeks after suffering a concussion. The senior guard returned against Northwestern.

“When you come off a concussion, he’s got five weeks to stand around lightly jogging. It’s not a good formula to come out and play good,” Wilson said. “He’s got a long way to go to get his play back to the way he’s capable of. He’s a good player, and when he falls off, his play is still really good. But you can tell him being back in there, that running game really popped up to 80 yards, and that made a big difference.”

Saturday’s game could be critical in Indiana’s pursuit of clinching its second consecutive bowl game, a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 1990-91. It needs three wins with matchups remaining against ranked teams in Michigan and Penn State, as well as meetings against Rutgers and Purdue.

The Terrapins shot out to a 4-0 start before dropping back-to-back games against Penn State and Minnesota. They rebounded to take out Michigan State, 28-17, last week.

“Tough challenge, tough game, off to a good start with our week,” Wilson said. “I like the way the kids practiced last week. Don’t like the way we started. We’ll try to figure out that and get better. Hopefully, we’ll have a better week because we’ll need one to move forward and get a victory.”

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