Early in IU’s 2011-12 campaign, three quarterbacks saw the field in search for a capable starter. In the Hoosiers’ 45-6 victory against UMass on Saturday, a trio of quarterbacks again played.
This time, however, it was for a different reason.
While scrambling toward the end zone early in the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson was tackled just short of the goal line and stayed down.
A gruesome replay showed that Roberson’s ankle was caught under a falling UMass defender, and by the end of the game, it was officially announced that Roberson had suffered a broken leg and will miss the remainder of the season.
“If you didn’t come out to this game with an incentive before, you have an incentive now, because Tre is down,” junior running back Stephen Houston told teammates on the sideline. “He needs us more than ever the same way we needed him. He’s going to lean on us as we leaned on him.”
Sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman came in during the next possession for IU, and the offense hardly missed a beat, and scored the next two times it had the ball. The Roberson-led offense built a 24-6 lead, which turned into a 45-6 victory in his absence, including a late appearance from freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
After the first IU possession of the afternoon resulted in a three-and-out, the Hoosiers went on to score on six of their next seven possessions. While the second quarter included Roberson’s injury, it was also a dominant quarter for IU on both sides of the ball.
While IU struggled in the second quarter last season — opponents outscored IU by a 169-56 margin — the team totaled 212 net yards while allowing just nine in the second frame Saturday. The Hoosiers outscored the Minutemen 17-0 in the quarter, resulting in a 27-3 IU advantage in the second quarter this season to date.
“We feel like that sends a message of what kind of identity we’re becoming as a defense,” sophomore cornerback Kenny Mullen said of the second quarter dominance. “We want to be known as a physical, fast-playing defense that’s going to stop the run and get after you in the pass.”
IU totaled 427 yards at halftime, including 237 on the ground. Roberson scoring runs of 50 and 39 yards helped that total, but by the end of the game, nine Hoosiers had recorded a rush.
IU head coach Kevin Wilson gave much of the credit to the defense for Saturday’s offensive explosion, praising its ability to get the Minutemen off the field quickly.
“As a defense, our job is to get the ball to our offense,” Mullen said, “and that’s what we strive in doing, forcing three-and-outs, getting off the field and forcing turnovers. Just getting the ball to our offense to put numbers on the board.”
The IU defense forced UMass to go three-and-out six times. During those six possessions, the Minutemen gained just four total yards. Mullen led the team in solo tackles with seven and ended with eight total tackles, including two for loss.
Wilson had been waiting for a breakout game from Mullen, saying that Mullen’s performance during week one left a little to be desired.
“He had a great offseason, he’s one of our best leaders and we thought he’d pick it up really well,” Wilson said. “He didn’t have a horrible game, but it wasn’t as good as we wanted. He showed up a lot today. That was great because he needed to play better than last week, and live, it looked like he did.”
The entire defense stifled the Minuteman offense, allowing 264 total yards — 176 of them in the first quarter. White Hoosier jerseys often swarmed to UMass ball carriers, allowing no escape. Mullen still wasn’t satisfied with one aspect of the performance, though.
“We need to get turnovers,” Mullen said. “That’s what we need to strive to do next week, but we flew to the ball and just played real fast and physical.”
The defense will continue to work headed to next Saturday’s matchup against Ball State, which scored 27 points in a loss to No. 12 Clemson. Coffman and the offense, like they did against UMass, will look to continue to function on all cylinders without their former leader.
“We expect to keep winning,” Coffman said, “even though Tre’s out.”