WHAT HAPPENED: After rallying back from a 35-13 deficit with 26 unanswered points, Indiana lost to Minnesota 42-39 in front of 44,625 at Memorial Stadium when tailback Tevin Coleman failed to catch a backward lateral pass from Nate Sudfeld and Minnesota linebacker Aaron Hill recovered the fumble to clinch the victory.
After four straight touchdowns by Indiana, Minnesota took the lead back on a 50-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Phillip Nelson to tight end Maxx Williams with 3:06 remaining. The Hoosiers moved quickly down the field and had the ball at the Minnesota 9 with 25 seconds left and three timeouts remaining, plenty of time to take two more shots at the end zone before trying a game-tying field goal. However, Sudfeld’s pass to Coleman was 2 yards backward, cornerback Brock Vereen read the screen and nailed Coleman when the ball bounced off his shoulder pads and Hill was there to scoop it up.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Minnesota quarterback Phillip Nelson, who had thrown for four touchdowns all season coming into the game, threw for four in this one alone to go with 298 yards, helping a Minnesota team that was 11th in the Big Ten in total offense with 366.4 yards per game to pile up 573 yards of total offense. The Golden Gophers more than doubled their passing average in the game.
Running back David Cobb also rushed for 188 yards and a score, wide receiver Derrick Engel caught four passes for 97 yards an two touchdowns and Williams caught four passes for 78 yards, including his 50 yard score.
Indiana had two tailbacks over 100 yards for the second game this season. Senior Stephen Houston rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries and Coleman rushed for 108 yards and a score. Sudfeld threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns in just one half after coming on in replacement of starter Tre Roberson.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson took the blame for the loss after the game, saying that his team had battled hard to get back in the game when it could have easily “given up the ghost,” and that he as a coach hadn’t put them in the right positions to win the game. he was right on both counts.
Wilson’s slow recognition of the fact that Tre Roberson was simply out of whack — which Roberson admitted afterwards — was a big part of the reason the Hoosiers had such a huge hole to dig out of. Indiana’s defense obviously played a part, but it’s reached the point that the Hoosiers have to go into games knowing that the defense will probably give up a lot of yards and points. When the IU defense does get stops, the offense has to take advantage. It made four straight stops in the first half, setting Indiana up for one of its touchdowns with a fumble recovery at the Minnesota 20. IU only managed a 13-7 lead out of that early period and when Minnesota started scoring, the Hoosiers didn’t have answers.
Roberson was 8-for-18 for just 80 yards in the half . Five of his drives were three-and-outs, and his throws and reads were simply off. Wilson said he started Roberson because he thought the Hoosiers would be able to use the zone read option and quarterback run game to take advantage of man-to-man coverage, but Sudfeld could have taken advantage of it just as easily through the air and he did once he got in the game. Wilson didn’t mention it, but it certainly also had to do with the fact that Roberson outperformed Sudfeld in the Michigan game and also over the past two weeks in practice. However, it was evident once the Hoosiers fell behind by two touchdowns that they needed relief quickly and someone who could throw them back into the game. Wilson said he was still considering putting Roberson back in to start the second half. The Hoosiers were fortunate that he didn’t try to push it further.
Going for a two-point conversion when the Hoosiers took a 39-35 lead also proved costly. Wilson said the percentages said it was an “either-or” call and there was certainly some logic to going for it, but if the Hoosiers had taken the extra point, they would have trailed by just two points rather than three. Instead of trying that fateful swing pass to Coleman, the Hoosiers would have likely been playing the ball to the middle of the field for a a game-winning field goal.
Wilson also admitted that the final play call itself wasn’t the smartest move. The Hoosiers had been extremely effective in running the ball throughout the game, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and even more if you take out some of the fluke plays for loss. The swing pass was certainly supposed to be a forward one, but even calling a play that could turn into that becomes a dangerous call. Obviously, a hindsight 20-20 decision but still, as he put it, not ideal.
The defense certainly contributed to the loss once again, allowing a Minnesota team that was averaging a Big Ten-low 122.9 yards per game to throw for 325 yards and four touchdowns. The Golden Gophers rank 11th in the Big Ten in total offense with 340.6 yards per game and went far beyond that with 573. However, the Hoosiers got four straight stops in the first half and stops on four of Minnesota’s six drives in the second half to allow the offense to get back into it. For a defense that is the Big Ten’s worst in every statistical category, it was actually a performance that was good enough to win the game.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: In and of itself, this is an emotionally devastating loss. The Hoosiers tried to put a smiling face on it afterward, saying they felt heartened that they battled back from a 35-13 deficit when the Memorial Stadium stands had cleared out, but they will be continually sickened every time they see the replay and how heart-wrenchingly close they were to a season-defining win.
More to the point, it puts the Hoosiers behind the eight-ball in terms of bowl hopes. They are 3-5 with four games to go, so it’s still possible, but the two most daunting games on their schedule still remain. After playing Illinois this week, they have to go on the road to play two Top 25 teams in Wisconsin and Ohio State before finishing the season at home against Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game.
Illinois looks increasingly beatable after falling to Penn State in overtime on Saturday and Purdue clearly holds the mantle as the Big Ten’s worst team. Had the Hoosiers defeated Minnesota, a bowl trip would have actually become a likelihood. But the Hoosiers haven’t beaten Ohio State in Columbus since 1987, and an upset doesn’t seem likely with Urban Meyer still being undefeated as Ohio State’s coach. The Hoosiers last beat Wisconsin in Madison in 2001, but the Badgers have outscored the Hoosiers 204-41 in their last three meetings and 175-30 in the last three meetings in Camp Randall.
WHO SAID WHAT: Kevin Wilson
“That was a tough loss. Our guys really didn’t play well early, but man they battled and really hung in there. We had a lot of chances, but I made a poor call and we did not execute the play at the end. We left three scoring opportunities empty, we got down to the goal line there at the end but turned it over and that was the difference of the game. Defense gave us some big plays so we tried to be more aggressive at the end. There was a stretch at the end where we were really playing well together and had a lot of momentum. I thought we had the best chance to win that game and I’m really disappointed for our players. As coaches we have to help them out at the end and make the right plays, and the last one was not the right call.”
On the swing call
“It was a swing play, so there is always a chance for a lateral. It just didn’t get executed right. We didn’t get on the ball like we should have either. When it’s a close game, those fundamentals like always giving the ball to the referee and never leaving it on the field are so important. Don’t just assume anything. Always grab the ball just in case. It was poor execution and really not an ideal call at that time in the game, and because of it, we lost the game.
On going for two twice in the game
“We had talked about different scenarios like that. our that was that if we kick and make it a five-point lead, they could kick two field goals and win. If we made the two and we were up six, we knew that if they got two field goals, we would be tied, and if they scored a TD, we would be tied as well They would still have to kick the extra point to go ahead if they scored and we have blocked several kicks thisyear. We almost got in the end zone on that two-point conversion with Nate (Sudfeld) scrambling) maybe we were being a little bit overaggressive in hindsight.”
On why he waited to put Sudfeld in the game
“With the way their defense was setup, we felt like we needed the ball because of their man coverages. Our backs did well today and we thought Tre would take part in that. Tre was just a little bit off in the first half as was the rest of the offense. We just felt cold at the end of the second quarter. We talked about it and we almost put Tre back out there again to start the third, but we decided to give Nate a shot. We are not trying to play it by half, we just play who’s doing a better job. Tre didn’t play poorly. He was just a little bit off and the way the running game was going, Nate came in and gave them a boost.”