By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON -- Bill Lynch isn't running away from Indiana's biggest problem.
He's attacking it before things get worse.
On Tuesday, the Hoosiers coach acknowledged that for Indiana to become a more balanced and consistent team, they must get their struggling running game off the ground in time for Saturday's game against Mid-American Conference foe Western Michigan.
"If we ran the ball better, we wouldn't have been in third-and-long," Lynch said. "We want to be in third-and-medium, third-and-short. The run game efficiency will help us get into better down-and-distance situations."
If it gets fixed -- and for Lynch that's the top priority right now.
A year ago, Indiana averaged 4.5 yards per carry with nearly a third of the total yards rushing coming from quarterback Kellen Lewis. Without Lewis' numbers, the averaged dropped to 3.9.
It was a big enough problem that Lynch spent part of the offseason seeking the advice of other coaches and returned in the spring to insert "The Pistol," an adaptation of the trendy spread offense Indiana has run the past four seasons. Lynch thought that by giving backs a longer running start, they would see the play develop better and hit holes with more power.
With a few rare exceptions in Thursday's season-opener, it didn't look like much had changed.
Though Indiana (1-0) held on for a 19-13 victory over Eastern Kentucky, the Hoosiers ran 31 times for 73 yards -- a dismal average of 2.35.
"I feel like it was not what we wanted," running back Demetrius McCray said. "They did some things to take away the run, but it was not how we wanted to play."
The inability to grind out yards, especially in the second half when Indiana was trying to run out the clock, forced Indiana to make some unconventional calls.
Twice on Indiana's final drive, Lynch opted to throw on third down. Quarterback Ben Chappell converted the first time, hitting McCray on a 6-yard screen pass on third-and-2. The second time, however, Chappell's pass to Tandon Doss fell incomplete on third-and-14, stopping the clock, and giving the ball back to Eastern Kentucky with 26 seconds to go and two timeouts remaining.
What went wrong?
"There are two things with the running game," Lynch said. "Up front, because of the shifting Eastern used and their movement once the ball was snapped, we didn't stay with our blocks as well. We have to work more with that type of movement. The second part of it is with our backs. There were some seams in there we didn't hit."
Getting Justin Pagan back at left guard certainly would help but that may not happen this week. Pagan and left tackle Rodger Saffold are considered the Hoosiers' best blockers, and Pagan missed the Eastern Kentucky game with an ankle injury.
Lynch wouldn't give a time table for Pagan's anticipated return, saying instead that the Hoosiers are being cautious with the 6-foot-5, 311-pound sophomore "so it's not something that lingers over the next 11 weeks."
Four players, none of them starters, have been ruled out of Saturday's game against Western Kentucky. Four others -- Pagan, receiver Aaron Burks (ankle), kicker Nick Ford (hamstring) and cornerback Donnell Jones (hamstring) -- are listed as questionable. Kicker Mitch Ewald (oblique), offensive lineman Cody Faulkner (foot) and tight end Brad Martin (ankle) are listed as probable.
But if the Hoosiers are going to make that jump from Week 1 to Week 2, which Lynch expects, it will start on the ground.
"They came out and played hard, we knew they would throw some things at us," running back Bryan Payton said. "We're happy about the win, but we're not happy with the performance. That's got to get better."