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Column: A Different Brand of Indiana Football

LINCOLN — The people who have watched Indiana football for double-digit years are constantly waiting for the anvil to get dropped on them.

Indiana celebrates perhaps the program’s biggest win of the 21st century on Saturday in Lincoln. (Bailey Wright/HN)

It hasn’t mattered how well the team has played throughout a given game. It hasn’t mattered what the momentum of a game seems to tell you.

When it comes to Indiana football, the longtime fans and observers are simply waiting for the anvil to drop on their heads.

At Minnesota last year. At home to Michigan in 2016. More games than we could ever list in this space.

But on Saturday night at Nebraska’s legendary Memorial Stadium, somehow the anvil never fell.

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A lot of things that happened in this game normally spell doom for Indiana.

Starting quarterback? Ruled out before the game even started. Early momentum? All on the side of Nebraska. Backbreaking turnover going into halftime? Of course.

And yet Indiana managed to piece together drives, both offensively and defensively, that kept them alive. And then they found a way to take the lead. And then they managed to barely keep a lid on the game, until at last the host Cornhuskers were out of time and out of answers.

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This Indiana football team feels very different from past editions. There’s something distinctive in the DNA of this group that keeps it from folding up the tents when the momentum goes against them.

The credit for this should rightfully be shared between the coaching staff and the players. Tom Allen’s move away from the head coach / defensive coordinator role to one of pure head coach has enabled him to focus more completely on the needs of the team, and it’s showing in the gradual improvement that the Hoosiers are exhibiting on a now-weekly basis.

The hiring of new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has been a masterstroke. Whether it’s Michael Penix Jr. or Peyton Ramsey under center, DeBoer’s offense is fluid, clever and unpredictable. Indiana’s passing game kept the Hoosiers alive through the tumult of the first 56 minutes of this game, and then Indiana’s dormant running game rumbled to life when things needed to be salted away.

Ramsey has shown admirable attributes throughout the past seven quarters of play, stretching back to the Maryland game. Ramsey’s ability to make smart plays and execute within the structure of the offense kept drive after drive alive for Indiana.

The defense did not have its best game, but there were plenty of special defensive plays throughout. The Hoosiers came up big when it mattered the most. And in the past two second halves of Big Ten road games, Indiana’s defense has now allowed a total of two touchdowns.

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There are four games left to play in the 2019 campaign, but this is already a special season for Indiana football. The question now becomes: How special can this season be?

A home date next week against a struggling Northwestern team is the next task for the Hoosiers, and a win in that game would propel them to their first seven-win season since 2007.

Can the Hoosiers go further than that? With the way this team is playing right now, you’d be foolish to count them out in any of their remaining contests. Indiana’s ability to move the ball on offense and adapt on defense makes them a dangerous opponent.

Football is a game of confidence and momentum, and Indiana’s position in perhaps the toughest division in college football has rarely afforded them the opportunity to acquire confidence or momentum. The stars aligned for the Hoosiers this year, and they have taken full advantage.

The longtime Indiana football fan is probably still sitting there, looking at the unchanging box score that shows Indiana as the 38-31 victor over Nebraska, waiting for the anvil to drop.

This year, for once, it’s not going to.

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