Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: Indiana football’s senior night was a toothpick through a sadness sandwich

<p>Indiana&#x27;s defensive line matches up with Minnesota blockers on Nov. 20, 2021, at Memorial Stadium. Indiana lost 35-14 at home Saturday to fall to 2-9 on the season.</p>

Indiana's defensive line matches up with Minnesota blockers on Nov. 20, 2021, at Memorial Stadium. Indiana lost 35-14 at home Saturday to fall to 2-9 on the season.

Indiana sophomore quarterback Grant Gremel took the snap with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. As he dropped back to pass, a combination of screaming fans, blinding lights and fearsome defensive linemen bore down upon him at Memorial Stadium.

He scanned the field, set his feet firmly and launched a prayer into the corner of the end zone. The ball seemingly hung in the air for an eternity until, finally, it landed in the waiting arms of freshman wide receiver Malachi Holt-Bennett.

The walk-on quarterback sprinted to celebrate with his teammate as cheers erupted around them. Final score: Minnesota 35, Indiana 14.

Football: [ANALYSIS: Was Indiana football’s 2020 season just a fluke?]

Once again, the Hoosiers came up short against a Big Ten opponent. The offense was predictably lackluster, but the defense struggled as well. 

With five seniors weighing a combined 1,760 pounds, the Golden Gophers’ offensive line resembles your average congressman in that it is quite old and very large.

It bullied Indiana’s front seven all afternoon, forcing the secondary to creep in and risk leaving Minnesota’s receivers wide open.

After one quarter, Minnesota senior quarterback Tanner Morgan had tripled Indiana freshman Donaven McCulley’s passing yardage. Six minutes later, he had octupled it. By halftime, he had exhausted all the words in the English language ending in “uple” with 143 passing yards — over 20 times as many as McCulley. 

You might think it’s a bad sign when your quarterback has one completion, seven yards and an interception on three passing attempts after 30 minutes of play. You would be correct — very, very correct.

That said, McCulley was a wrecking ball on the ground, picking up 72 yards on 16 carries. Fans probably didn’t love seeing the Hoosiers’ last healthy scholarship quarterback taking so many hits, but primarily calling quarterback runs is probably pretty low on their list of complaints about offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan in 2021. 

Midway through the third quarter, Gremel entered the game to provide a spark that McCulley couldn’t. On his first play, he ran for five yards until a defensive back hit him so hard he went airborne and landed three yards behind the point of contact. 

During the ensuing commercial break, the evening’s Neal tire toss contestant went 0-3 while Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” serenaded a near-empty Memorial Stadium in yet another painfully accurate microcosm of the Hoosiers’ season. 

A few spectators even removed their shirts in an attempt to recapture the magic of last week’s bare-chested brigade in section 19. However, they failed to recruit enough members due to most students being at home for Thanksgiving break or, perhaps more likely, simply not wanting to come to the game. 

ICYMI: [COLUMN: How to explain Indiana football’s failure to your family]

I suppose the sequel is never as good as the original. 

After McCulley threw his second interception late in the third quarter, Gremel once again replaced him.

If you’ve ever had an old phone charger, you know the frustration of constantly unplugging it, flipping it around and jamming it back in in the desperate hope that it will suddenly start working. That’s basically what Sheridan and head coach Tom Allen appear to be doing with the quarterback situation, although it’s possible this charger isn’t even plugged into an outlet to begin with. 

While laughing at Indiana’s expense makes for a good time — or at least an effective coping mechanism — it undermines the accomplishments of its seniors, who might have played their final game at Memorial Stadium. 

Linebackers Cam Jones and Micah McFadden, defensive lineman Ryder Anderson and a secondary full of veteran leaders have been among the few good reasons to watch Indiana football in 2021. It’s a shame their efforts couldn’t overcome a brutal schedule, bad injury luck and a cocktail of other adverse conditions. 

I’m sure each of them will leave Bloomington with plenty of pride, friendships and cherished memories — just maybe not from this year.

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