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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 1:00 am

Future bright for Hoosiers, despite missing bowl game

MICHAEL MAROT | Associated Press

Indiana began the season trying to change its football image.

The Hoosiers headed home Saturday contemplating why that breakthrough victory never came. And now they'll have a whole offseason to try to find a solution, part of the hard reality of falling one game short of becoming bowl eligible.

“I really wanted another month with the guys on this team,” senior quarterback Richard Lagow said after losing Saturday at Purdue. “That's the biggest disappointment, the most disappointing part about it.”

Sure, there was plenty to lament in a season full of disappointments.

Indiana (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) went 0-5 against ranked teams, including an overtime loss to Michigan, couldn't end its conference losing streak at Maryland, gave away the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in five years and failed to make the postseason for the first time in three years.

But as tough as it is to hear those lines inside the locker room, coach Tom Allen knows how much progress his team made this season – and how much more improvement it could make next season.

The defense that fought its way back to respectability in 2016 made another giant step this year. Despite playing one of the nation's most challenging schedules, the Hoosiers finished the season ranked No. 26 in total defense (340.1 yards per game) and No. 54 in scoring defense (25.3 points).

Allen won more games than any full-time first-year coach at Indiana since Phil Dickens went 5-3 in 1958.

Still, Indiana needed to win its last three regular-season games to keep playing.

“I expected us to be going to a bowl game this year,” Allen said. “Coming up one game short isn't what I wanted. No question nobody played more top-ranked teams than we did, that's a fact, but it's part of it. You have to be able to find a way to win enough games to extend your season and we came up one short.”

The silver lining is that Indiana did find a foundation for the future.

Redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey wrested the starting quarterback job away from Lagow at midseason but gave it back after injuring his knee during the 42-39 loss at Maryland in late October.

Morgan Ellison, a true freshman, and Cole Gest, a redshirt freshman, emerged as the Hoosiers' workhorse running backs. Receiver Whop Philyor, another true freshman, showed he could be a dynamic player.

Plus, nine of their top 10 offensive linemen will be back.

The only real question on offense is whether Simmie Cobbs Jr. will leave early for the NFL after finishing second in the Big Ten in receptions (72) and third in yards receiving (841).

On defense, the Hoosiers must replace linebacker Tegray Scales, cornerback Rashard Fant and safety Chase Dutra.

But Allen seems to have some of their replacements in place, making for a potentially stronger team in 2018.