There are no good answers.
That’s the unfortunate reality for IU football after dropping its third straight Big Ten game against Maryland on Saturday 42-39. Three different games, three different reasons why the Hoosiers lost with no fix available to what ails IU.
Simply put, IU just lacks the ability to win close games.
“They always tell me Indiana’s been like this,” freshman wide receiver Whop Philyor said. “They always lose the close ones. I’m tired of losing the close ones, man. We got to change it. We got to break through.”
This is what IU football is at this current moment. A crossroads where an actual breakthrough feels far away. Maryland was supposed to be an opportunity to regain momentum and set itself up for a solid finish to the season.
Instead, it became a nightmare for the Hoosiers.
The offense, which has struggled so much this season, finally scored enough points to win the game, but the defense and special teams were subpar. It's almost as if IU can’t play a complete game against a Big Ten team.
The problem isn’t tangible. It’s not that the Hoosiers lack passion or focus on that breakthrough, it’s just that they seem utterly incapable of fulfilling that mantra no matter how hard they try. The circumstances and the opponent change, but the results remain the same.
Saturday's loss wasn’t heartbreaking because there’s no heart left to break. IU Coach Tom Allen had a chance this season to break the depressing cycle of IU football, but it is concerning that he hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet.
The path forward is murky. This version of the IU football team is one of the most talented in a decade. The Hoosiers brought back 10 out of 11 defensive starters and talented offensive weapons in junior receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. and senior tight end Ian Thomas.
Most of those players will be gone next season.
While the word breakthrough has seemingly lost all meaning, this was supposed to be the year that IU was supposed to win the big games and win seven or eight games. If not now, when?
“As a competitor, you hate to lose and being as close as we have been the last three weeks is tough," senior quarterback Richard Lagow said. "But you just got to use it as motivation and know that we're right there. We're in the games, and we're one or two plays away in any phase of the game from winning all three of them.”
It’s time to stop taking solace in being so close and being motivated by these close losses. At a certain point, this program is what it is.
This isn’t an indictment on Allen as a coach. He’s only eight games into his first season at the helm, and the Maryland loss was the first loss of the season that was a disconcerting loss.
Allen has a determined football team that believed wholeheartedly it could have a successful season this year, but ever since the Ohio State game, the belief in what this team can be has slowly eroded.
“Really excited to see our team respond with the toughness and the grit and the mindset we have to have to play in this league,” Allen said. “And especially to bounce back from a game where you feel like you had — you look at all the different stats, and stats don't really matter — but did so many great things and just didn't get the job done.”
Great, this team is gritty, but it’s nearly November and the Hoosiers don’t have a single win over a Big Ten team yet. Good teams don’t lose games to third-string quarterbacks.
IU isn’t a good team.
The season began with so much hope and expectation, and most of the hope has now dissipated.
For a team looking for a breakthrough, the season has instead broke down.
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