Do you remember hot potato?
A group of people, typically but not necessarily children — no judgment here — sit in a circle and repeatedly toss an object back and forth while music plays. When the music stops, the person left holding the “hot potato” loses and is removed from the circle.
Throughout Indiana’s 38-24 loss to the No. 8 University of Cincinnati, the two teams handed victory to one another until Indiana finally decided it would not be bested in a battle of unforced errors.
In his postgame press conference, Indiana head coach Tom Allen summed up what many fans are likely feeling in one phrase.
“This one’s on us,” he said.
The Bearcats are an extremely skilled team, but they didn’t necessarily need to be to beat the Hoosiers. Zero first downs in the first quarter, 72 total penalty yards, a missed field goal and a missed extra point — both of which ricocheted off the uprights with a resounding doink — aren’t the makings of a juggernaut.
Regardless, the scalding spud was firmly in Cincinnati’s hands when the final whistle blew.
In the first quarter, the game felt like the EA Sports NCAA Football video game series where the user controlling the Bearcats kept checking his hot routes before each snap, thus revealing the entire play to the Hoosier defense every time.
Indiana’s defensive line pressured Cincinnati senior quarterback Desmond Ridder early, making his backfield look about as comfortable as a khaki Speedo. Indiana’s defensive backs preyed on Ridder’s errant throws, eventually leading to senior linebacker Marcelino McCrary-Ball intercepting a pass.
Indiana’s offense wasn’t exactly a Ferrari, failing to convert a fourth down in the red zone and gifting Cincinnati an interception courtesy of junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. After one quarter, the Hoosiers led 7-0.
Arguably the largest momentum shift came with just over four minutes remaining in the first half, when Indiana senior linebacker and team captain Micah McFadden was ejected for a questionable targeting penalty.
Was it actually targeting? I don’t know, but I suspect everyone who watched the hit already has a completely unchangeable opinion about it. All I know is Ridder definitely got bonked on the helmet and McFadden undoubtedly delivered that bonk.
It’s hard to say how much a single athlete can influence the outcome of a game, but Indiana’s defense clearly regressed following McFadden’s exit. Though it never fully broke, it’d bent completely to Cincinnati’s offense. Ridder started connecting on more of his passes and went 6-7 for 61 yards in the third quarter.
However, Ridder wasn’t the only quarterback to find his groove in the second half.
Penix uncorked a 44-yard strike to graduate student wide receiver D.J. Matthews Jr. on the Hoosiers’ third possession of the half. Matthews took an end-around sweep into the end zone moments later, reclaiming the lead for the Hoosiers.
Of course, that drive lost a bit of its shine when Cincinnati junior wideout Tre Tucker returned the subsequent kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to put the Bearcats up 23-21.
Indiana took control once more thanks to a 49-yard field goal from junior kicker Charles Campbell but failed to score in the fourth quarter. For every throw Penix fit into an impossible tight window, he tossed two more dangerously close to the Bearcat secondary’s outstretched arms.
Last season, Penix posted some of his best performances while trying to carry the entire offense. This year, we’re seeing the ugly flip side of those one-man efforts, from errant overthrows to game-ending turnovers. Penix tossed three interceptions, bringing his season total to six.
Similarly to its loss at Iowa week one, Indiana committed costly errors that its stellar defensive and offensive playmakers ultimately couldn’t overcome. Cincinnati incurred 11 penalties, but none of them were nearly as costly as Indiana’s, which included a roughing the passer penalty in addition to McFadden’s targeting call.
Last week, I wrote about how I was excited to watch Indiana play in a contest which, according to Las Vegas odds, it would probably lose. Why? Win or lose, the Hoosiers almost always make those types of matchups interesting.
After six turnovers, five lead changes, 117 penalty yards, a 99-yard kickoff return and two doinks, perhaps the only emotion I wasn’t processing was boredom.