BLOOMINGTON – At the end of Saturday’s third quarter against Purdue at Memorial Stadium, Indiana head coach Tom Allen meandered toward his players coming off the field.
With both arms raised above his head and his black windbreaker clinging to his sides, Allen flashed four fingers on each hand.
IU’s bench boss does a variation of this seemingly every week. Symbolically it’s a he’s reminding his players 15 minutes remain – the game’s not over till it’s over.
Trailing by 14 points heading into the final frame, perhaps Allen sought to inspire his squad to finally ascend beyond the litany of close losses that have littered IU’s schedules the past decade.
But Saturday it was for naught.
Once more, IU had its chances to steal win No. 6 and bowl eligibility with it. Instead, offensive misfires, missed tackles, and miscues sent the Hoosiers to a 28-21 loss and another 5-7 season.
IU had seven drives that ended in Purdue territory. Four trips amounted to zero points.
An offense directed by coordinator Mike DeBord that lacked of imagination all season saw redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey throwing five-yard out-routes while trailing by two touchdowns with under-four minutes remaining.
The Hoosiers were similarly plagued by ghosts of near-upsets past on defense.
Missed tackles proved far from an anomaly – they were the norm Saturday.
A blundered Raheem Layne arm tackle saw Boilermakers receiver Rondale Moore stroll into the end zone after a blown coverage left him sprinting unmarked through the IU secondary in the second quarter.
Markell Jones’ touchdown run with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter brought more of the same. Hitting the open-field, a handful of IU defenders tracked Jones down near the goal line. But Jones then willed his way to pay dirt as the Hoosiers hung onto him for dear-life.
And then there were the disciplinary issues.
With 2:09 remaining in the third quarter, IU sat poised for good field position after a sack brought up third-and-20 for the Boilermakers at their own seven. But freshman Devon Matthews mimicked Purdue with a throat slash celebration – earning himself a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and granting the offense a first down.
“It wasn't the number of them, it was the timing of them,” Allen said the six penalties his team committed. “We had them throughout the season at critical times. Not being able to overcome those has been the problem.”
It’s been nearly two years since IU appeared in their last bowl game – a date with Utah in the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl. The near miss against Duke in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl is almost four years past.
Two years in a row, the Hoosiers needed a win in the Old Oaken Bucket game to earn bowl eligibility. Two years in a row they failed.
Now another offseason of questions persists in Bloomington. Coaching changes appear to be on the horizon – Allen even alluded to delegating his defensive coordinator responsibilities next year.
But more pressing, is the issue of relevance. To maintain any semblance of standing in the all-powerful Big Ten East, the Hoosiers need bowl appearances.
As they did throughout 2018, Allen’s bunch again missed a breakthrough chance Saturday.
“We just have to choose to do it,” redshirt junior receiver Nick Westbrook said of how IU moves forward. “We just have to choose to be great and realize we are a great team.”