The families of Indiana football’s seniors lined up across all 100 yards of Memorial Stadium’s field Saturday. Seniors, graduate students and some redshirt juniors stood alongside them to be recognized before Indiana’s 35-14 loss to Minnesota in Bloomington in the last home game of the season.
Head coach Tom Allen moved down the line as each player was announced, stopping to take a photo with the family before moving to the next.
He paused for the longest at the very end of the line. After posing for a picture with redshirt senior linebacker Thomas Allen, Tom Allen took a minute to embrace his family in the north end zone before running off the field and into the locker room.
“I’m just really proud of our seniors and all that they represent,” Tom Allen said in a postgame press conference. “What they’ve done since they’ve been here, they helped us create change in this program. Just wanted to be able to get them a win today and we weren’t able to do it.”
Once the game started, Indiana turned back to those same senior defensive leaders. On fourth down in the first quarter, senior linebacker Micah McFadden and redshirt senior Bryant Fitzgerald combined to make the stop deep in Indiana’s red zone.
Beyond that, there was little for the senior class to celebrate. In a season which started as hopeful as any other, Indiana once again stumbled against a Big Ten opponent and fell to 0-8 in conference play.
The Hoosiers’ defense was on the field for 68 plays, 16 more than its offense. Its 12 leading tacklers were all seniors or older, including McFadden, Fitzgerald, senior linebacker Cam Jones and senior defensive back Raheem Layne, who paced the team with eight tackles each.
“(McFadden)’s All-American for a reason you know,” Fitzgerald said. “That guy right there is the heart and soul of our defense. Micah, he’s a workhorse and a special, special guy.”
Beyond the influence of the seniors on the field, Indiana felt the absence of the ones that weren’t just as much.
Redshirt junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who was honored before the game as an academic senior, watched from the sidelines during his sixth-straight missed game due to a shoulder injury. In his place, freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley threw for 17 yards on 3-7 passing with two interceptions. McCulley added 72 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
Graduate student running back Stephen Carr watched from the sidelines as Indiana’s running backs produced 28 rushing yards. Graduate student wide receiver D.J. Matthews, who tore his ACL against Western Kentucky University, looked on as the rest of Indiana’s receivers hauled in 33 yards — 29 of which came on Indiana’s last play of the game, a touchdown catch by freshman Malachi Holt-Bennett.
Even its seniors that appeared were absent from the scoresheet despite playing Saturday. Senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle had one reception which lost four yards and added 12 yards on a jet sweep on the first drive of the game. Redshirt senior tight end Peyton Hendershot had eight rush yards and no catches.
“That’s the challenge right now,” Hendershot said. “Be one of those guys who didn’t give up on us and just fight for the seniors now. It’s challenging for our seniors, you know, this was our last game of the year so I wanted to end it on a high note.”
A majority of Indiana’s seniors will have the opportunity to return next year due to the NCAA’s extra year of COVID-19 eligibility. Allen said some of the players being honored may come back, but will not make their decision until after the season ends.
Indiana will wrap its season up next week against Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game. The game will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.