The relative strength of the Big Ten teams becomes clearer every weekend, and last Saturday’s bout between the Indiana women and Notre Dame sorted the field even further. Indiana's 20-0 victory might suggest that the Fighting Irish and Michigan (which also lost to Indiana by 20 points, 32-12) are in the same sphere, but Indiana coach Vaughn Mitchell dispelled that myth.
“Michigan was our toughest opponent so far,” Mitchell said. “They had some size on us, and we always have problems with teams that are bigger than us. … Notre Dame, they never got within our 22, and we played most of the game in their half.”
So why such similar scores? Saturday’s game was rainy, which meant a lot of handling errors, and therefore a lot of scrums. But during the first quarter of the game, the referee called for uncontested scrums.
“We were pushing them around pretty badly,” Mitchell said. “When they put the ball in, we pushed them back four or five meters, and their locks kept falling down. The referee, he does a lot of high school games, so he was going toward safety and called for uncontested scrums. But at this level, you should be able to hold up your own scrum for the first 15 minutes of the game. Negating the scrum, you took away our advantage.”
Indiana has invested a lot of time in their scrum, practicing against the men’s team once a week, and made the set piece an integral part of their game plan. A dominant scrum wears down the opposing forwards quicker – not to mention disrupts clean ball and/or steals possession – but on a rainy day like Saturday, a tighter game evolved anyhow, and so Indiana relied on their superior fitness in producing the win.
Scrumhalf Tiffany Nguyen did a good getting to the breakdowns and controlling the pace of the game, while flyhalf Caroline Walters managed the backs well and organized the team on offense and defense. The team was missing all-star fullback Madeline Pound, but Bridget Tasker stepped in for her first foray at 15 and performed admirably.
“This is one of the most talented teams I’ve had in the last five years,” Mitchell said. “They’re the most talented overall, one through 22. There are no weak links, and even the subs who come on make a huge impact.”
Conference leader Penn State anchors Indiana’s season, and while Mitchell is well aware of that challenge, the team isn’t looking too far into future.
“We’ll be ready to play, and it’s nice to build up to that end-of-season game,” Mitchell said. “But I don’t want to overlook Ohio State. I think they’re really good.”
But in terms of rivalry, Indiana’s biggest game is this Saturday against Purdue. The players all know each other, making the win even more personal. Indiana should have no problem getting past Purdue, and will see OSU the following weekend.