As Indiana took a 21-20 lead over No. 18 Penn State late in the third quarter yesterday, Indiana fans had good reason to be excited. After a less than inspiring effort the week before against Iowa, this Hoosier football team had clearly not quit on head coach Tom Allen and this 2018 season.
If that enthusiasm for the tenuous lead over the Nittany Lions was peppered with a heavy dose of apprehension, there is certainly historical justification for it. As we saw just moments later when Penn State returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards, any such doubts were surely warranted.
As the latest close-but-not-quite against a ranked opponent was unfolding, we couldn’t help but wonder — just how many times have we seen this play out? What we found was startling.
Over the last six years, Indiana has been within one score or in the lead against a ranked opponent well into the 2nd half sixteen times — and lost all of them.
Okay, to be fair, IU did pull out two such games, in 2014 at Missouri, and in 2016 against Michigan State, although the Spartans finished that season 3-9. The win over Missouri proved to be a very high quality victory by an IU team that later suffered a season ending injury to Nate Sudfeld — another dagger for Hoosier fans for what was probably the best IU football team in the last 30 years.
But leaving those two wins aside, this run has been nothing short of torturous. Literally. A ticket to an IU football game could justifiably include some sort of counseling for the emotional pain it causes those are truly invested in this program. Read — not those of you that just like to complain on social media or retreat to your tailgate at halftime.
It has been magnified in the last four seasons, with 14 games during the 2015 through 2018 seasons (or 3.5 per year) where IU has led or been within a score of ranked teams well into the 2nd half, only to come up short, and with only that win over the eventual 3-9 Spartans to show for it.
When we decided to go back and list out these games, we knew there would be more than a handful. Any time a Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, or the other usual suspects come up on the schedule, memories of opportunities lost painfully resurface.
But frankly, we had no idea it was this bad.
WARNING: Viewing this list may cause discomfort, anger, sadness, or extreme despair. We recommend that you consult with your physician before proceeding.
October 20, 2018: Indiana led No. 18 Penn State 21-20 with four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.
September 22, 2018: Indiana trailed No. 24 Michigan State by seven with three minutes to go in the game.
November 4, 2017: Indiana trailed No. 9 Wisconsin by seven early in the 4th quarter.
October 21, 2017: Indiana took a 9-3 lead over No. 18 Michigan State well into the 4th quarter.
October 14, 2017: Indiana took No. 17 Michigan to overtime.
August 31, 2017: Indiana led No. 2 Ohio State 21-20 with three minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
November 19, 2016: Indiana led No. 3 Michigan midway through the 3rd quarter by three.
November 12, 2016: Indiana led No. 10 Penn State by three midway through the 4th quarter.
October 15, 2016: Indiana trailed No. 10 Nebraska midway through the 4th quarter by two.
October 8, 2016: Indiana trailed No. 2 Ohio State midway through the 3rd quarter by seven.
November 14, 2015: Indiana took No. 14 Michigan to double overtime.
November 7, 2015: Indiana trailed No. 9 Iowa by eight with just over two minutes left in the game.
October 24, 2015: Indiana trailed No. 7 Michigan State early in the 4th quarter by five.
October 3, 2015: Indiana had the ball 4th and goal on the Ohio State nine yard line down seven as time expired.
November 22, 2014: Indiana led No. 6 Ohio State by six midway through the 3rd quarter.
October 13, 2012: Indiana lost to No. 6 Ohio State by three.
*Indiana did defeat No. 17 Michigan State in 2016 and No. 18 Missouri in 2014.
It takes a special kind of fan to keep coming back for this, and we commend those of you that do. You are the true fans of this program.
Will it ever change? It would be kind of foolish to boldly proclaim “yes” in light of this list, wouldn’t it? But you either find a way to have hope — or you check out. Since you are here, you probably haven’t completely checked out just yet.
Here’s the prescription for hope. Indiana has been in all of these games despite being overmatched and massive underdogs. For the second year in a row, IU is on track for one of its best recruiting classes ever. An incremental increase in talent should be enough to win some of these already close games.
That, and as we all know, you have to have a quarterback. Michael Penix’s season appears to have ended yesterday, but if it did he will be able to redshirt and be back for the next four seasons. The kid is obviously talented and seems to have the composure to compete at the highest levels of the college game.
Perhaps that isn’t very compelling — but that’s all we’ve got right now. Who are we kidding anyway? You’ve made it this far.
We Indiana fans are gluttons for punishment — and we’ll see you Friday night at Minnesota. At least they aren’t ranked.
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