COLUMBIA, Mo. – IU football doesn’t get many days like Saturday.
IU football fans almost come to expect failures. The disappointments. The “almosts.”
The struggles of the IU football program have been well documented. Six consecutive losing seasons. Eighteen consecutive losses against ranked opponents.
Twenty-seven years have passed since IU beat a top-20 ranked team on the road.
The Hoosiers came to Columbia, Mo., having just lost to Bowling Green in dramatic fashion in a game IU Coach Kevin Wilson admitted had slipped away from his team.
It’s hard to truly quantify exactly what Saturday’s 31-27 win against No. 18 Missouri means to an IU program that has become used to being kicked around.
“From our standpoint, it’s not a surprise that we won, but it was a big upset in reality,” freshman linebacker Tegray Scales said. “I think we’re very excited to know that we could do that.”
When Wilson and his players talked immediately following IU’s four-point win against Missouri, there was an evident feeling of ?accomplishment.
This team has heard the critics. It knows the history. It has felt the ?unrest of the fan base.
But the win—no matter how small it may ultimately prove to be—was a signature victory the program has lacked, the team said.
To Wilson, it’s a reaffirmation that the program is taking steps in the right direction and doesn’t need to be defined by struggle.
“To me, we’re doing things the right way, and we’ve got a great deal of support and commitment from our school and from our ?department,” Wilson said.
“We’ve been knocking on the door, but you have to knock it down, and we just keep tapping on it.”
That door may still prove to be intact. After all, IU is only 2-1 with a loss to Bowling Green, and the Hoosiers remain a long way away from a Bowl invite.
But for at least one night in the IU locker room, that door was knocked down.
It’s the first road win for IU since Oct. 27, 2012 against Illinois. It’s only the third win in a game decided by less than one score in the Wilson era.
It’s only the fourth road win against a ranked team in the Associated Press poll in program history. Those rankings date back to 1939.
IU won in ways that weren’t like the IU teams of the recent past, ?either.
Last season, IU was ranked No. 121 out of 123 teams in the FBS in total defense.
But Saturday, the Hoosiers won with defense.
Missouri scored 27 points, but IU kept the Tigers out of the endzone when the offense was stalling.
They won with a running game.
IU rushed for 241 yards despite having star junior running back Tevin Coleman out for most of the night with cramps.
When IU needed a critical score with 22 seconds left, senior running back D’Angelo Roberts muscled into the ?endzone.
Roberts — a player who never truly got to be the No. 1 running back during his time at IU — got the score.
After all, he is the seasoned mentor to Coleman, who has been making the headlines leading the nation in rushing.
“He deserves this win,” Coleman said of Roberts. “It was good for me to see him do his thing. I mean, I love him.”
Saturday’s team is the first group of players who weren’t coached by former IU Coach Bill Lynch. This is Wilson’s team.
In the grand scheme and vastness of the landscape that is college football, IU’s four-point mid-September win against Missouri may inevitably mean nothing to anyone outside of Bloomington.
It may just be another minor victory for a Big Ten team used to being among the Power Five conferences’ least successful programs.
But maybe it will be more. Maybe it will prove to be the elusive signature win Wilson’s teams haven’t been able to capture.
In 1987, after IU beat a No. 9 Ohio State team, then-Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce ?famously called the loss “the darkest day in Ohio State football since I’ve been associated with it.”
In Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel’s press conference, those words echoed. He used a familiar term — “dark day.”
But for the Hoosiers, the win was all but dark. It was a reassurance. A step forward, the team said.
A program that has gotten used to being knocked down got up.
Now it’s trying to stay up.
As Wilson closed his press conference, he kept perspective. His approach has been to not get too high after a win or too low after a loss.
“We ain’t got nothing figured out,” Wilson said. “We’re the same bunch of bums that played last week. That’s the same bunch of bums this week. We’ll see how we show up next week.”
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