I don’t think it’s unfair to say IU has been tremendously lucky this year.
Yes, this team might be the best IU has had in decades, if not ever, but how crazy is it that Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all managed to be awful in the same season? It’s a good thing such a massive disruption of the balance wasn’t accompanied by apocalyptic phenomena like smoke-filled orange skies or a plague or — actually, never mind.
Whatever shred of universal equilibrium remained was restored today with No. 9 IU’s 42-35 defeat at the hands of No. 3 Ohio State.
Despite a slew of Biletnikoff-award worthy catches by senior receiver Ty Fryfogle and a masterclass in perseverance by the Hoosier defense, the immense scarlet and grey Big Ten steamroller proved too great a challenge.
I’m not sure if it was the Buckeyes’ two-play, 75-yard opening touchdown drive or senior center Harry Crider catapulting the ball over sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s head on his eighth snap, but something told me early on that fortune was not on IU’s side.
The Hoosier defense hounded quarterback Justin Fields as long as it could, forcing two first-half turnovers to give Penix and company the ball back in the first quarter. However, in a prime example of a toxic relationship, the offense failed to reciprocate that support, leaving its other half to carry the load unsupported through two-and-a-half quarters.
At halftime, I found myself wistfully combing through the touchdown-laden box scores of Fresno State games, cursing former IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer for ever leaving Bloomington.
Meanwhile, Ohio State rarely put together a steady, dominant possession, but its wealth of explosive athletes more than compensated. Much like a hearty bowl of Campbell’s soup, the Buckeyes ladled beefy chunk after beefy chunk of yardage.
Despite occasionally appearing to be on the fast track to humiliation, IU eventually gained momentum and ended up being a much bigger thorn in Ohio State’s side than the college football world anticipated.
Usually, I’d say it’s more painful to endure a narrow loss than an outright drubbing, but not this year.
For the first time in my life, I believed IU was a legitimate contender, and this matchup proved it. I know we want to see IU start slaying titans, but going from excruciating blowouts to excruciating heartbreakers is an integral step in the maturation of any unit.
Maybe I’d take this defeat worse in a typical season. IU has competed in exactly five more games than I thought they would be able to, so I’m not too downtrodden about a hard-fought defeat to the Big Ten’s great value version of the University of Alabama.
Sports fans tend to have trouble admitting luck plays a critical role in any team’s success. Yet, there is so much that goes into a football game that the victor cannot control. Refs make tough calls, fumbles bounce a certain way and kickers shank makeable field goals.
IU has done so well because it has capitalized on luck but never became dependent on it.
Alas, it takes a lot of rabbits’ feet and four-leaf clovers to overcome a negative 1-yard rushing performance. The Hoosiers couldn’t generate enough of their own fortune early on and it cost them in the end.
While IU may view this contest as one that barely got away, head coach Tom Allen’s squad will be fine. It is no longer a question of whether or not IU deserved its spot in the top 10. I’m not even sure there are ten schools in the country that could hang within a score of Ohio State, let alone force a Heisman frontrunner to toss three interceptions.
Hoosier partisans may be feeling spurned today, but the Buckeye faithful should definitely be letting out a huge exhale of nervous relief.
Ohio State is an excellent group and won thanks to its remarkable talent and skillful coaching. But as we’ve established, there are always factors the winner cannot influence.
I’m not saying Ohio State got lucky avoiding the upset, but there’s something to be said about playing in a giant horseshoe.