In the wake of a demoralizing 42-16 loss to Iowa on homecoming Saturday, Indiana’s players had Sunday off. This is the breaking point of IU’s 2018 campaign, and with the grind of Big Ten play in full effect, the Hoosiers had a chance to spend Sunday gathering their thoughts before preparing for Penn State.
Indiana is the nation’s 19th-youngest team. Many key roles are being filled by underclassmen, or upperclassmen with limited experience. Senior wideout Luke Timian has been here since 2015. He has suffered demoralizing losses before. He may again. But after Indiana faltered in the redzone, allowed six passing touchdowns to Nate Stanley, and simply were not prepared for Iowa, Timian wasn’t sure how Monday would go.
“It’s interesting because I don’t think a lot of the young guys, and most of the team, really didn’t know how to come in today,” Timian said. “Now we get Sundays off, so you get more time to gather your thoughts and think about it.”
Almost everything went wrong for the Hoosiers on Saturday. Indiana set a season-high in penalties with ten for 99 yards. Its bench had two of them. Iowa’s tight ends combined for eight receptions, 208 yards, and three touchdowns. The Hoosiers entered the Hawkeyes’ 30-yard line six times on Saturday. They came away with 16 points.
Saturday’s game was a chance to push Indiana’s realistic, supposed ceiling to seven or eight wins. Instead, the Hoosiers are back to square one. Head coach Tom Allen is challenging his players ‘to own it, to flush it, and to press on.’
“We didn’t execute like we need to,” Timian said of Iowa. “They’re really, really disciplined football team. Probably the most disciplined team I’ve seen. You’re not gonna trick them. We tried a couple times. They didn’t bite. We’re not happy with how we performed. We’re gonna have to look ourselves in the mirror and decide what we want out of this season.”
IU seniors showed up Monday and decided to hold a player-led meeting with the team. It was led by offensive lineman Wes Martin and defensive tackle Jacob Robinson, but other senior leaders spoke. Five games remain for these Hoosiers. There are formidable tests such as this week against Penn State and a November trip to Ann Arbor. There are also more realistic opportunities on the remaining schedule, but those teams have started to prove their potential. Indiana has not.
“Everyone was there and present,” Martin said. “My biggest message to the guys was really just staying the course and if everyone across the board in the whole program does their job the best they can, then we’ll be successful. We just have to focus on the things that we can control and do those things the best we can and you’ll see good results when that happens.”
Allen is confident in his team’s ability to learn and respond from a lackluster performance against Iowa. It gets no easier with Penn State on Saturday, a Nittany Lion team on the heels of two disheartening losses of their own in Ohio State and Michigan State.
“It’s amazing how one game changes how you feel, one way or the other,” Allen said. “It can change the trajectory of your season. You see it all across the country. You see it happen in places. I’ve been part of it both good and bad. Man, you have to just — to me it takes tremendous mental toughness to be able to persevere.”
For the Hoosiers, Monday was the start of having a better Saturday. For a successful season — a bowl season, to materialize, Indiana must re-establish its momentum. It must be able to stretch the field offensively, and limit its lapses defensively. It must do what Wes Martin said Monday — look Saturday in the face, and call it what it was.
“Today, we had to look Saturday in the face and call it what it was,” Martin said. “We got our butts whooped on Saturday. We had to face that and just move on. You watch the film, you see what happens, you go over all the things that need to be corrected and then you flush that and get ready to go. We have five games, a lot of football left to play. We got a lot of winning to do.”