Throughout much of his press conference immediately following the loss to Minnesota last Saturday, Tom Allen’s voice was barely audible.
It was the same dejected, frustrated, bewildered Allen we’ve seen at the post-game podium for several weeks in a row.
“Not to our standard, not acceptable,” Allen said quietly with his head down. “And it’s not been that way for most of the season. So pretty frustrating.”
But then, off microphone as he left the press conference, Allen literally pivoted to week 12, and his words, and his energy could not have been more clear.
“Beat Purdue!” he yelled to no one in particular, and everyone within an earshot.
With Indiana at 2-9 and still winless in the Big Ten, no single win is going to change the narrative surrounding this 2021 season. It was a complete and total disappointing failure. Yes, there are multiple angles as to “why” the season veered off the tracks almost as soon as it started, but the fact remains, it was a failure of epic proportions in light of the expectations Allen and everyone else had coming in.
But as Allen seemingly realized as he left that post-Minnesota press conference, beating Purdue is more than just a single win. It is a win over a rival that rejuvenates the fans, it factors into in-state recruiting battles, and it ends the season on a high note. Even this season.
After a season of disappointing losses, a seemingly never-ending string of key injuries, and players not performing to their ability, the IU program desperately needs that boost of energy.
More than anything, Indiana just simply needs a win.
“It would be huge with all we have been through,” Allen said on Wednesday. “Sometimes when you are in it you don’t have a chance to take a step back and realize what you have been going through. It’s been challenging.”
For all that has gone wrong, the one thing that has been right week-in and week-out has been linebacker Micah McFadden. An All-American in 2020, McFadden has played up to that standard once again this year, with 70 tackles (43 solo), 15.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
But the team’s performance might cost him that kind of postseason recognition this time around. McFadden, like many of his teammates, has a decision to make during the offseason. For him it is enter the NFL Draft or return for a fifth season. But it should come as little surprise that McFadden is waiting to figure out those plans until IU finishes out the season at Purdue.
“It would mean so much,” McFadden said. “I think keeping The Bucket here would turn the tide for our season and the feeling to finish it off the right way and keep The Bucket in Bloomington would definitely change the vibe of the season right now.”
Beating Purdue is something that IU has grown accustomed to recently, winning five of the last seven in the series. Two years ago Allen stood at the post-game podium in West Lafayette also with a barely audible voice. That photo at the top isn’t Allen this season — it was him in 2019. But then his words were difficult to hear because he was overcome with emotion after leading the Hoosiers to an eight-win season and reclaiming the Bucket.
Allen and the Hoosiers lost a very good chance to make that six of eight when the game was cancelled last year with the Hoosiers a double-digit favorite to win in Bloomington.
This year, the odds are long in the other direction. Purdue is a 15-point favorite and will be playing before a sold-out home crowd.
You don’t need to tell Allen how much has changed in a year. He has lived it every second of every day since the season kicked off at Iowa.
And you don’t need to tell him what it would mean to pull off the upset in West Lafayette. The post-game scene would likely be much like it was two years ago. An emotional guy baring his soul, only this time after a mentally exhausting campaign.
“Getting a win would be massive for our program and for our players,” Allen said. “I just want it for these guys. I want them to finish this way, to finish with a huge win and winning The Bucket would make us feel a whole lot different going into this offseason.
“So, yes, it is a big deal.”
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