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Saturday, May 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

COLUMN: Indiana football loses to Purdue – but Tom Allen’s job is the bigger question

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana football redshirt freshman quarterback Brendan Sorsby appeared dead for rights – until he wasn’t. 

With just over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter of Saturday afternoon’s game against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium, Sorsby broke free from a defender, sprinted to his right and saw senior receiver E.J. Williams wide open down the sideline. 

Sorsby gathered himself and launched – and then watched his pass sail several yards out of bounds. Indiana was forced to punt, and an opportunity to make something out of nothing was put to rest in an uninspiring fashion. 

In a sense, this play symbolizes Indiana head coach Tom Allen’s seven-year tenure, and the headshaking finish perhaps best reciprocates the mood experienced inside the Hoosiers’ locker room after Saturday’s 35-31 loss to the Boilermakers. 

It’s the third straight year Purdue (4-8) has won the Old Oaken Bucket. It’s also the third straight year Allen’s team has failed to win more than four games, as Indiana concluded its season at 3-9 overall and just 1-8 in Big Ten play. 

The Hoosiers are 1-5 against the Boilermakers under Allen’s guidance. They’re 3-24 against conference foes over the past three seasons. Their recruiting class for next season ranks 15th out of 18 teams in the new-look Big Ten. 

This is the reality of Indiana football. A once-promising program riding high after being ranked top-15 at the end of the 2020 season has now endured three consecutive disappointing campaigns, and it’s difficult to believe the future will be any better – at least with Allen at the helm. 

So, will Allen keep his job for next season? That’s anybody’s best guess. 

“That’s out of my hands,” Allen said postgame. 

The ball is now in Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson’s court. Dolson is tasked with answering the $20 million question: should Indiana keep Allen until at least next December, when his buyout drops by some $13 million, or get a head start on rebuilding the program with four new schools set to enter the conference next season? 

If the dilemma was solely based on Allen’s on-field performance, there’s not much to ponder – he hasn’t succeeded at staying on top of the ever-changing landscape of college football. Allen has noted multiple times lately how different the sport is now compared to 2020, when the program won its best portion of games (75%) since 1967. 

There’s been little winning in Bloomington of late. The Hoosiers’ lone victory over a Power 5 opponent this season came Nov. 4 against Wisconsin, which played without its starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai and star running back Braelon Allen due to injuries. 

Allen knows this. He also knows it may ultimately cost him his job, and he doesn’t plan on stopping his pursuit towards victory until Dolson tells him it’s over. 

“I get it, you’ve got to win,” Allen said postgame. “I understand the nature of college football. I want to win more than anybody, so we’re going to keep battling and scratching and clawing.” 

For as negative as the outside perception around Allen has grown, he remains well-supported in the Hoosiers’ locker room. Look no further than sixth-year senior linebacker Allen Casey, who told the Indiana Daily Student on Nov. 15 he wasn’t sure he’d stay in Bloomington after his true freshman season in 2018 but stuck it out because of Allen. 

Casey played his final collegiate game Saturday. He grew into Indiana’s most productive defender, leading the team in tackles (109), tackles for loss (20) and sacks (6.5). He’s forever thankful for the lessons learned under Allen. 

“He’s been a blessing to me,” Casey said. “I’ve had one-on-one conversations with him multiple times throughout the season, offseason, just talking about everything – life, football. He’s a guy that cares about his players, and everybody’s always around him no matter the situation.” 

The ‘Love Each Other’ mantra Allen imposed long ago is still strong amongst players and coaches. Indiana’s final five games were all decided by single digits – there was still plenty of fight left even as the season noticeably slipped away. 

These signs shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Hoosiers could’ve checked out, but they didn’t. It’s a testament to the quality of characters Allen’s assembled to represent Indiana. 

Sorsby reiterated the tight knit nature of Indiana’s roster after the game and said he and the team haven’t paid any attention to talks about Allen’s job being at risk. 

“We’re playing for whoever’s in that locker room with us,” Sorsby said. “Coach Allen, we love him. All the players, we love each other. We tune that out.” 

As the lights beamed over an empty Ross-Ade Stadium hours after Saturday’s game ended, the reality of Indiana’s season coming to an end began to sink in. 

This campaign began with intrigue, as the Hoosiers put up a competitive fight against Ohio State in the season opener and lost by one possession to a now-top-10 University of Louisville squad, sitting at 2-2 through four games. 

But in the eight contests since, Indiana’s spiraled out of control, much like it has the previous two years. 

Allen’s team believes in him, but the fans don’t, and the trajectory of his results bodes poorly for his future. Now, it’s just a matter of whether Dolson takes the $20 million shot – and if Allen’s bus ride back to Bloomington was his last as Indiana’s head coach. 

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana football season. 

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