TAMPA — I have a 1-year-old nephew. For his birthday this year, I decided to give him a Little Tikes indoor slide. He loved it. He went up and down over and over and over. Until he decided he wanted to walk up the slide.
We all know how this story ends. He fell. He cried. And as quickly as it had arrived, the slide was put in the closet until he is old enough to handle it.
It’s not that we didn’t love watching him enjoy it, he simply wasn’t as ready as we all thought he was.
Indiana learned that same lesson Saturday.
The 2020 Indiana football season was one of many ups and downs. From knocking off Penn State to losing starting quarterback Michael Penix to injury (again). The Indiana Hoosiers’ season was one full of surprises and great performances.
Tom Allen said it best after Saturday’s 26-20 loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl: “They are a special group and they lead a tremendous foundation for next year.”
“Indiana just struggled to figure out a gameplan.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 2, 2021
Even now as I write this from the Raymond James Stadium press box, seeing the Outback Bowl logo in just about every corner of my eye, I still feel as if Indiana being in this position is still too good to be true.
I felt that against Penn State. I felt it against Michigan. I still feel it looking back at the Ohio State game. At its best, this Indiana team was a top-10 team and easily could have been one of the best teams in the country.
So what’s the problem?
That team we saw all season isn’t the team we saw Saturday.
We didn’t see explosive plays. We didn’t see a receiving touchdown. And for the first time this season, we didn’t see a defensive takeaway.
We saw an Indiana Hoosier team get outplayed and out-schemed in a way Indiana had not been beaten all season long.
It’s time that we stop looking around for a deeper explanation. I don’t have to write an article doing a deep dive into the play of quarterback Matt Corral nor the play-calling genius that is Lane Kiffin.
Ole Miss was ready to go. Indiana wasn’t. Saturday’s result really comes down to just that.
As far as the comparison to last season’s bowl loss to Tennessee, I assure you that this one is much worse.
The mood around last year’s game was “Aww shucks” vibe while this year has more of a “WTF happened” vibe.
As the seventh best team in the country, you are expected to not just beat 4-5 teams. You are expected to dominate them.
Let’s rewind to a few weeks ago. Indiana was furious following its bowl placement claiming that the team deserved more. While I was in agreement with the Hoosiers following their regular season performance, Saturday’s effort was bad enough to have me second-guess it all.
Maybe the committee was right. Maybe this Indiana team just isn’t as strong as its record shows it is. After only beating one team with a winning record (Wisconsin) this season, it sure seems that the committee may have gotten it right.
That being said, maybe this just wasn’t Indiana’s day. Bad matchups happen all the time and Saturday could be a prime example of that. Maybe Ole Miss just isn’t as bad as we thought it was.
All excuses and explanations aside, this is a game you not just want to win. You need to win it. Indiana needed to prove to the world that this wasn’t the same old Indiana team and that Tom Allen and the Hoosiers were ready to turn the page and write a new chapter in the history of Indiana football.
Sadly, with another bowl loss just 365 days after the last one, you cannot help but feel that this Indiana team is still just not ready to be the program it was claiming to be all season.