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Indiana Hoosiers Football 2023 Autopsy: Turning of a Page for Indiana Football

It’s over, and it’s changed so much since then.

Do we really need an Indiana Hoosiers football autopsy for 2023? At this point, I think that there’s been plenty said by myself and others that could clue you into what exactly happened to the Hoosiers this fall on the gridiron. To save yourself some reading, here are the cliff notes:

  • Indiana play bad football
  • Team go 3-9
  • Coach get fired
  • Get new coach

There ya go.


You’re still here?

Well then I guess I can elaborate for you just a hair. Here’s what went down in B-town this fall.

The Results

Indiana got to start the season off with a bang against Ohio State. Despite the Buckeyes looking completely lost on offense for the first time ever against an Indiana squad, the Hoosiers began their musical chairs routine at QB. Redshirt Freshman Brendan Sorsby started while fellow Redshirt Freshman Tayven Jackson would relieve Sorsby after a couple drives. The rotation style continued all day. That led to 153 yards of total offense in a 23-3 defeat.

The Hoosiers got a bounce back game against FCS Indiana State where they started Tayven Jackson who actually looked pretty good. Despite getting some late game reps and touchdowns from Sorsby, the Hoosiers beat the Sycamores. Tayven Jackson was announced as the “permanent” starter on Monday.

Indiana then got a neutral site game against a Louisville squad coached by nemesis Jeff Brohm. While UofL would go on to have a rather magical season, the Cardinals were not the powerhouses they were in game number 3. Despite completely shitting the bed and getting down 21-0 at halftime, the Hoosiers rallied to make it a 14-21 game. On a 4th and goal from the 1 with around 5 minutes left, the Cardinals stopped the Hoosiers’ flaccid running attack. Indiana would not be able to get Louisville off the field and a golden opportunity was lost. Tayven Jackson would look good again, with 299 yards of passing. Jailyn Lucas would have over 100 all purpose yards and lead the team in rushing and receiving. He would not do that again all season.

Coming back home to play the Akron Zips, the Hoosiers thought they might get back on track. Well, this game proved to be a harbinger of things to come as the Hoosiers could not contain MAC basement dwelling Akron. Akron would amass 474 yards of total offense to the Hoosiers 282 in this game. The Zips had a gold opportunity to win this game with a 32 yard field goal as time expired, but they missed it. Indiana would go on to win in 4 OT periods 29-27.

Indiana would then go on to play Maryland in September, which was really the fatal flaw in this game. Indiana would fail to even show up, getting blown out 44-17 in a game that was horrendous to watch. Heading into the bye week, Indiana was 2-3.

Coming out of their bye, Indiana would play the future nation champion Michigan Wolverines. A new offensive coordinator and a 7-0 lead after the first quarter would be meaningless, as the Hoosiers would fall 52-7 in one of the more depressing games I’ve seen out of a Hoosier team.

Following that up, the Hoosiers would return home to play the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. Despite knowing that Rutgers would run the ball every play, the Hoosiers could not get stops or prevent special teams disasters and would fall to the Knights, 31-14. For most in the fanbase, this signaled the end of the season as the path to 6 wins from here was very bleak. Brendan Sorsby is also named the second permanent starting QB somewhere in here.

Then came one of the more stunning performances (good and bad) of the Tom Allen era. Despite being heavy underdogs, the Hoosiers would walk into Happy Valley and give Penn State quite a fright. Despite multiple miscues, the Hoosiers would go into halftime down only 3 points. After more miscues out of halftime, the Hoosiers would pull within 3 in the 4th Quarter. Despite an interception that started a drive with 5 minutes left to go at the Penn State 21, the Hoosiers would run up the middle 3 straight times and settle for a field goal to tie the game at 24. Immediately, Penn State would score on their next drive to go up 7, and Indiana would get a safety on their first play from scrimmage on the last drive.

With backs against the wall and the mathematical ability to get to 6-6 now falling away, the 2-6 Hoosiers would play the Wisconsin Badgers. In a game where Wisconsin was without their QB and top RB, the Hoosiers would only muster 20 points. However, the defense would hold Wisconsin to 14 and give bowl eligibility one more chance.

Against Illinois the next week, the full Indiana experience was on display. Despite jumping out to a 27-12 lead in the first half, Indiana would surrender 14 straight points to close the half with a 27-26 lead. Illinois would then pull out to a 39-27 lead before the Hoosiers would storm back and tie the game in regulation at 42-42. Indiana would then kick a field goal in their possession while Illinois would immediately his Isaiah Williams for a touchdown. The Hoosiers gave backup Illinois QB John Paddock 507 yards through the air, added to 155 Illinois rushing yards.

After being eliminated from bowl contention, the Hoosiers would lose to Michigan State the next weekend, also playing a backup QB, 24-21 on a last second field goal. The final week of the season the Hoosiers would fall in the Bucket game 35-31 to Purdue. Indiana would finish the season 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the B1G. This would make the Indiana Hoosiers 9-27 over their previous 3 seasons and 3-24 in the B1G over that timeframe.

The Wacky Storylines from Indiana This Season

The QB Situation

Backing way up to the winter and spring recruiting cycles, it was announced that Tayven Jackson would be the loan QB to transfer into Indiana with a hope he’d be the guy to start at QB. No other quarterbacks were brought in to offset the departure of Connor Bazelak who took off for Bowling Green. This was mentioned as a red flag for some, but many hoped that the Tennessee transfer Jackson would be able to live up to the hype. Stories out of spring practice reported that the QB battle was actually very close, with Sorsby perhaps even being better than Jackson. The noise would quite down until fall camp.

For the 3rd year in a row, Tom Allen would decline to name a starting QB going into fall camp. This would then spiral into Sorsby and Jackson each starting 1 of the first 2 games before going into Louisville. Sorsby got Ohio State, Jackson got Indiana State. After the Indiana State game, Jackson was named the permanent starter. However, after a bad game against Akron and a bad 3 quarters against Maryland, Jackson would be pulled for Sorsby in the Maryland game. Sorsby would throw the only 2 Indiana TD’s in the game.

After the sacking of Walt Bell, Jackson would start the Michigan game but would be relieved soon and be plugged in a couple more times. Going into the Rutgers game, Sorsby would now be listed the permanent starter and Jackson would not see the field again in the season.

For those asking, the largest difference between the 2 quarterbacks was the mobility Sorsby displayed. While not exactly an option QB, Sorsby was capable of extending plays and taking off with his legs, which was a quality Jackson either doesn’t possess or simply didn’t display in his stints at QB, preferring to be a pocket passer. While the offensive line was much improved from the previous two years, the line still wasn’t great and that in turn led to some of, not all of, the struggles of Jackson.

Former Player Arrested for Accessory to Murder

While not a major storyline, this gem was a story for a hot minute. Former Indiana cornerback Jamison Kelly was charged in Mississippi with accessory after the fact to murder. Allen announced Kelly was dismissed on September 28th, almost a month before the news of the arrest broke. As if this staff needed more shit to deal with, they dealt with this too.

Another Assistant Sacrificed

Perhaps my favorite story because I get to say “I told you so” was the sacking of Walt Bell. When Walt Bell was hired, I specifically questioned why he was the hire. So when it all came crashing down last year, I was dumbfounded that I was right. Enter this season. The Hoosiers offense again added some useful playmakers and had some arm talent at QB. Indiana had hired Bob Bostad to rebuild the offensive line, which was a great hire. However, the Hoosiers mustered 5 regulation touchdowns against 4 FBS level opponents in 4 games. After having an Iowa-esk offense the year before and having people literally calling the weekly Tom Allen Show hosted by Don Fischer to lobby for Bell to be fired, Walt Bell was canned after the Maryland game. I’ve said enough about this topic, time to move on to his replacement.

Rod Carey Named Permanent Offensive Coordinator

In an unsurprising surprising way, Tom Allen would then name Rod Carey as offensive coordinator. Not interim, but permanent offensive coordinator. While there’s no doubt Allen saw the writing on the wall, he committed to Carey in an effort to save the sinking ship. Carey was also given the biggest offensive coordinator contract in program history. While not a poor hire on the surface, the simple fact that a permanent move was made without a national search did raise eyebrows.

The Disappearance of Jaylin Lucas

The most potent weapon the Hoosiers kept touting was star kick returner and RB/WR Jaylin Lucas. Lucas was touted as the All-American kick returner. True to his billing, he was able to secure a few great kick off returns, however he only managed to get 22 kick returns all year. Of those 22, he got just 1 touchdown against Purdue. He was also put back to be the punt returner for the first half of the season. However, due to his consistent inability to secure the ball on the punts, he was replaced mid season.

The big word was that Lucas would be utilized more this year. The coaching staff mentioned that he was going to be a great tool for the offense. That great tool only managed 275 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns, along with 247 yards receiving and 2 more touchdowns. 2 of those touchdowns coming in the Indiana State game. With such promising speed and explosive abilities, the inability for the coaches to get Lucas the ball in successful spots really hindered and led to the disappearance of this once hopeful star. Lucas entered the transfer portal after the season and is committed to Florida State.

The Emergence of Donaven McCulley

While Lucas faded into obscurity, Donaven McCulley really jumped into the forefront for Indiana football. After a pedestrian first 7 games of the season which saw him catch 20 balls for 224 yards and 1 touchdown, McCulley hit a major stride in the last 5 games of the season. That stretch saw him catch 28 balls for 420 yards and 5 touchdowns. Listed at 6’5” and every bit the athlete he looks like, many were perplexed early in the season why McCulley was not being targeted or producing well. As it turns out, Walt Bell just kind of sucks at getting playmakers involved and after 2 games with Rod Carey, McCulley broke out.

Going into the offseason, McCulley garnered offers from about every single P5 school imaginable, including Michigan and Florida State. However, after a hell of a pitch from now head coach Curt Cignetti, McCulley will return to Bloomington for his senior season.

Tom Allen Fired

As has been stated and an autopsy already written, Tom Allen was fired promptly at the conclusion of the regular season. While I’ve stated my opinion several times, it really is quite a shame to see someone who was once so revered and loved and who is so genuine and good come crashing to earth that way. Allen was bought out of the 3rd largest buyout in college football history. However, his unemployment would be short lived as late in 2023, he was hired by Penn State to be their new defensive coordinator.

Indiana Hires Curt Cignetti

Indiana would certainly swing for the fences on their replacement hire. Indiana hired Curt Cignetti away from national darling James Madison. Cignetti brings an extensive head coaching resume to the Hoosiers chocked full of winning football. Cignetti has worked fast at gathering and retaining talent, including bringing in the number 7 ranked transfer class (at the time of writing) and holding onto wide receiving gem Donaven McCulley, who broke out in the back half of the season for the Hoosiers and was fielding transfer offers from every major program imaginable.

Transfer Portal Giveth and Transfer Portal Taketh

As was predicted after axing your coach, over 25 Hoosiers announced that they’d be either entering their name in the transfer portal or leaving the NFL draft. While one could argue that losing talent off a 3-9 team is kind of whatever, there were certainly names that fans would like to have stayed.

At the time of writing, there have been 22 Hoosiers opt to transfer out of Indiana. These include names like Mathew Bedford and Brendan Sorsby. There have also been 4 players pull their name out of the portal or the draft preparation and opted to stay at Indiana, including offensive linemen Mike Katic and Carter Smith, as well as running back Trent Howland and receiver Donaven McCulley.

While losing 22 guys is tough, this new staff has brought in 22 more players to replace what they’ve lost. At one point, the team was ranked number 4 in the transfer class rankings on 247 sports, but now they sit at 13. 10 of those transfers are from the James Madison roster, which sounds lame until you hear that James Madison was a top 25 team virtually all year.

Overall Thoughts

While I certainly have thoughts on this season, they’ve mostly all been expressed to this point. 3-9 is no where near good enough and the program was floundering on the brink of a doom spiral. The firing of Tom Allen was unfortunately needed and the hiring of Curt Cignetti seems like a fantastic move. Of course, all these things have been said about other hires and firings before so we will see in time. There is one thing for sure though, and that is that Indiana Hoosiers football will look very different come fall camp, and I am very excited for that.

What are your thoughts on the 2023 Indiana football season? Does the hire of Curt Cignetti give you more excitement for 2024? Tell us below!