There was no postgame meeting in the middle of the field, no “good game” handshakes in the normal location.
Instead, the Purdue players sprinted to the IU sideline to claim the coveted Old Oaken Bucket, while the IU players simply stood — motionless.
Chants of “Boiler Up!” rained in from the secluded Purdue seating section as the Boilermakers made their way back across the field. The players walked around yelling, “We’re going bowling!”
The Hoosiers remained on the east side of Memorial Stadium — still motionless. They had to watch their most hated rival take what belonged to them only seconds earlier right from their very sideline, inside their own stadium.
The memory of last year’s win was gone. The knowledge that the victory sends the Boilermakers to a bowl game was cemented in every player’s mind.
Purdue 33, IU 25.
That’s how the brutal season ends.
“We’re going to be thinking about that for a long time,” sophomore wide receiver Kofi Hughes said. “That’s some good motivation to be thinking about every morning.”
Bragging rights aside, this loss isn’t such a bad thing for IU Coach Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers. If they had beaten Purdue, kept the Bucket and gone 2-10, some of the players might have felt better about the season than they should.
With the loss, though, the Hoosiers are reporting to offseason workouts today with the Boilermakers very much on their minds. They’re seeing this season for what it really was — a giant debacle in which they went 1-11 and only beat a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
“It hurt. It hurt,” sophomore running back Stephen Houston said of watching Purdue take the Bucket. “It was never supposed to happen.”
It might hurt the players, but they can use that hurt as motivation for next season. A win creates a satisfying warm and fuzzy feeling that IU doesn’t deserve right now.
If the Hoosiers are going to progress with Wilson, they can’t afford to feel good about the way anything went in 2011, even players with solid individual numbers, such as Houston.
“In my short-term experience here, when a player does reasonably OK, all of a sudden we talk about how well he’s going, and we never get to what we’re capable of being because of the entitlement and the semi-arrogance that an average player gets when he plays pretty good,” Wilson said. “That being said, it’s keeping guys like (Houston) grounded, saying, ‘Hey, if you want to be a great player, you repeat it over and over.’”
As bad as the record looks, there might be more positives from this season than the Hoosiers’ 5-7 campaign last year.
First, the 2010 Hoosiers played sub-.500 ball with a bunch of upperclassmen who didn’t return. This year’s club featured a remarkable number of freshmen and sophomores who will be in the program for multiple years to come.
Second, last year’s team struggled with a coach who had been in charge for multiple years. This year’s Hoosiers had to deal with an entirely new coaching staff that clearly didn’t have everyone’s commitment early on.
And finally, while last year’s club seemed to struggle down the stretch, Wilson’s Hoosiers made some noticeable improvements in the final few weeks, especially on offense.
True freshman quarterback Tre Roberson, Houston and Hughes are the core of this offense and this program going forward.
You couldn’t name three guys with promising futures at this time last year.
Everybody loves to say the future is bright, but that can only be true if the players keep buying in to Wilson’s system and continue working hard. Otherwise, seasons like this one could easily happen again.
“If you play the same, you get the same results,” Wilson said. “Just because they played as young (guys) doesn’t mean the future is bright. The future is bright if we can keep them channeled, keep them pointed in the right direction.”
After having the Bucket ripped from their hands Saturday, the Hoosiers shouldn’t find that too difficult to accomplish.