So what was going on in 1987 you ask?
Ronald Reagan was President. Platoon won the Academy Award for best picture. “That’s What Friends are For” was the song of the year.
For our younger readers, sorry. You’ll have to Google all that stuff.
Also, a certain college basketball team you might care something about won its most recent national title.
Oh yeah, and I saw Indiana defeat Blue in 1987, and it was glorious.
Since then, the glorious has become an inglorious trail of torment.
33 years and 24 meetings later, Indiana is still looking for its next win against Michigan.
IU head coach Tom Allen, who was 17 at the time and playing football for New Castle High School, is well aware of Indiana’s futility against Michigan.
And that is something he hasn’t hid from his players this week.
“It’s going to be talked about quite a bit. The record is what it is,” Allen said. “We talk about things pretty openly in our program, talking about the past not being predictive of the future. To me, it’s about what you do next. We talk about that as a football team.”
Allen is 0-3 against Michigan, including a 27-20 overtime loss in 2017. His Hoosiers were also competitive in 2018 in Ann Arbor but lost decisively (39-14) in 2019.
“It will be made a big deal about,” Allen continued on the losing streak. “I think we’ve had opportunities since I’ve been here against Michigan and we haven’t been able to finish, just like Penn State. We have to clean up the mistakes and we have to finish.”
As the defensive coordinator for Kevin Wilson in 2016, Allen saw another close call — a 20-10 loss in Ann Arbor in a game that IU led 10-6 late in the third quarter.
Wilson went 0-4 against Michigan, including a heartbreaking 48-41 overtime loss in 2015, and a still difficult to comprehend 63-47 loss in 2013. That latter contest in many ways set in motion the series of events that led Allen to IU to become defensive coordinator.
There have been enough close calls to comfortably recognize that an Indiana win is not only possible, it is at some point, likely.
Like we saw against Penn State two weeks ago, eventually even Indiana is going to get all of the breaks.
But while Allen has been openly talking about the past this week, he is of course carefully crafting his words.
In essence, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
“I’ve always been a big believer in mindset, but just more specifically, talking about the past not being predictive,” he said. “I don’t believe it is, unless you don’t change what you do on a daily basis, and then it will become predictive. To assume it’s going to be predictive just because it’s going to be that way is what people will talk about and they’ll give the stats … and the past is real. But it’s not predictive unless you don’t do something different. It’s what you do next — we talk about that, even as a football team.”
Former head coach Bill Lynch would no doubt like to forget the past.
His 0-2 mark against Michigan included a 36-33 loss in Ann Arbor in 2009 in a game during which he threw his gum at an official. Lynch’s Hoosiers followed that up with a 42-35 loss to the Wolverines in Bloomington in a game where IU had a 35-15 first down advantage.
Such as in the case of the Lynch years, Indiana has at times seemingly played its best football — and still came up short against the Wolverines.
Allen believes he still hasn’t seen his team’s best to this point in 2020.
“The bottom line is this is about us playing our best football, that’s the focus,” Allen said. “We haven’t done that yet. I feel like we’ve had opportunities, since I’ve been here, against Michigan, and haven’t been able to finish those opportunities, much like with Penn State in the past.”
The beloved coach Terry Hoeppner was 0-2 against Michigan, as was ESPN analyst Gerry DiNardo. Neither seriously threatened the Wolverines in their two respective attempts.
Both Hoeppner and DiNardo found that when playing against superior talent, the margin for error was razor thin.
Allen has closed the talent gap with improved recruiting during his tenure, but he still knows that too many unforced errors could lead to the 25th straight loss against Michigan.
“I told our team again this morning, it doesn’t matter what I believe, but it’s what they believe and how are they are going to prepare and more importantly how are they going to perform on game day? It’s our preparation that’s going to be key. We have to clean up the mistakes that we made the last couple weeks, keep getting better and we have to finish,” Allen said.
Cam Cameron went 0-4 against Michigan including a 34-31 heartbreaker in 1999.
Cameron followed in the footsteps of Bill Mallory, the last IU coach to beat the Wolverines.
But Mallory lost his last seven in a row to Michigan, including in 1988, the last time Indiana faced Michigan ranked higher in the national polls.
The 1987 win and the national rankings were not at all predictive in 1988. Michigan dominated that game 31-6, and IU hasn’t been much more than an occasional pest since.
In a way, things have come full circle.
Indiana defeated another national power and conference titan in Penn State. The Hoosiers are ranked higher than Michigan.
Allen has Indiana headed in the direction he had hoped for, but the program still has rungs to ascend on the ladder.
If Indiana is going to end 33 years of misery on Saturday, the climb must continue.
“We’re in a position here that I expected us to be in and talked about being in the last couple years, Allen said.
“Now it’s here, and we have to be able to continue to elevate our focus and our attention to detail in our preparation process, which is why our word this week is ‘elevate.’ I feel like that’s what we have to be able to do to create a different outcome than we’ve seen in the past.”
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