Before Indiana’s 34-32 win against Maryland on Saturday, Tom Allen made a decision. Unlike a season ago, IU’s head coach decided to address the postseason to his team. Indiana had lost four games in a row, two in the closing moments. At 4-5, its season was on the brink. But the Hoosiers did not appear in the bowl season last year, so Allen walked into this week’s meetings and made a change.
Allen spoke to his team about Indiana’s bowl history. It is not rich. Since the bowl era began in 1940, the Hoosiers have appeared only 11 times. Instead of ignoring the noise of postseason possibilities like last year, Allen told his inexperienced, often naive team that a bowl appearance is what they are pursuing. First, however, Indiana had to translate its urgency into victories.
“I didn’t really do that last year at this time,” Allen said. “I chose not to. I didn’t want to talk about going to bowl games, but I just said, you know what, forget all that, I’m talking about bowl games. Because they’re big. We have been to 11 in this program’s history. And so our objective is to get to No. 12. And so I’m going to call it what it is. I’m going to call these guys out on it and say that’s what we’re playing for.”
A fifth win already has matured, albeit by the thinnest of margins. Indiana’s defense was abused for 542 total yards against Maryland, 353 coming on the ground, and 210 by freshman running back Anthony McFarland. In the clearest example of IU’s bend-but-don’t-break defense, the Hoosiers forced four field goals by Maryland kicker Joseph Petrino. Indiana also forced four takeaways, scoring 17 points off them to take a 31-15 lead with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter. But Maryland marched back as opponents seem to do in Bloomington. Maryland receiver Jeshaun Jones escaped attempted tackles by Thomas Allen and Andre Brown Jr, dove for the endzone, and handed the Terrapins a 32-31 lead with 4:54 to play.
Then IU freshman running back Stevie Scott took over. Scott, who is nearing 1,000 yards on the season and set the school’s all-time record for freshman rushing touchdowns, scampered for 32 yards to give kicker Logan Justus an opportunity at a go-ahead field goal. From 42-yards, Justus made the biggest kick of his IU career. But 2:32 remained, with Maryland holding a pair of timeouts and offensive momentum.
The ultimate takeaway came with 1:40 remaining in the game, with the Hoosiers leading 34-32. Indiana had not been able to sack Maryland all game, but Syracuse grad transfer Kayton Samuels strip sacked Tyrell Pigrome with the Terrapins on the IU 48-yard line. Nile Sykes fell on the ball. The Hoosiers had secured their fifth win, snapping a four-game losing streak and injecting life into the season.
It is a season that continues, and will continue to Ann Arbor against No. 4 Michigan — in arguably Indiana’s most daunting task of the season. The Hoosiers will conclude at home against Purdue. For the fourth consecutive season, it is likely that Indiana will need to claim the Old Oaken Bucket in order to reach bowl eligibility. The Boilermakers, having lost Saturday, could very well be in the same situation.
“I think it was huge,” linebacker T.D. Roof said of Allen’s bowl game message. “I think it really motivated people. The last three games it was either now or never, so I think him talking about that really motivated the team. It helped us get the win today.”
Indiana survived its first test in a battle of desperate teams, though. At five wins, Maryland now has to beat either Ohio State or Penn State to extend its season. Urgency, for IU, translated into a multitude of ways on Saturday. Peyton Ramsey delivered one of his best games as a Hoosier — setting a career-high 8.68 yards per attempt en route to completing 16-of-28 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
“I liked it a lot,” Ramsey said of the downfield attack. “Especially when you have guys on the perimeter that have the ability to make plays. We have so many guys that are capable of making plays, and defenses that we’ve played have understood that … Today when the opportunities were given, we did a good job of taking advantage of it.”
Ramsey appeared more confident to throw downfield, finding outside receivers in Donavan Hale for an impressive 37-yard touchdown and Nick Westbrook from 19-yards out for another score. Ramsey also found Ty Fryfogle for 35 yards in the first half, and scampered for a career-long 35-yard touchdown. It has been a point of emphasis, from Allen, to take chances downfield with IU’s tall, athletic receivers.
“They’re probably tired of hearing me say it,” Allen said. “Throw the ball down the field. Okay? We got big receivers, I live in that world, DB’s aren’t as big as the receivers and it’s hard to cover them. So you get interference calls and we got a bunch of those. It’s hard and so I know you can’t do it every snap obviously, but that’s to me, it’s an objective for sure.”
Saturday was not pretty. Aside from Ball State, there has not been an attractive victory for this Indiana team. Youth, inexperience, and injuries usually lead to that. But these Hoosiers, as flawed as they may be, responded with a victory as their season was on the brink.
“That locker room, all you had to do was just take a peek in there and see what it means to these guys,” Allen said of the win. “And it was a huge, huge win for our program. I love the way these guys have stayed together and they have just had to block out the noise and just keep fighting. We knew we needed it and we talked very openly to our team about what was at stake.”